Fear of Flying

Revolutionary Worker #1121, October 7, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

In a major effort to boost up the floundering airline industry, U.S. President Bush flew into Chicago's O'Hare airport on September 27 and spoke at a "pep rally." Bush had a message for air travelers: "Get on board. Do your business around the country."

On the same day, the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times featured a big photo of a federal air marshal pointing an automatic weapon at the head of a passenger during a hijack drill inside a jet liner. Bush announced that up to 5,000 National Guard troops will be positioned at airports around the country. And there were reports that mid-level Air Force generals can now order the shooting down of passenger jets that are considered hijacked and a threat to cities, without clearance from higher officials.

Welcome to the surreal world of air travel in America 2001--where airports have been turned into military checkpoints and passenger jets are potential targets of F-16s, while the president tells people, "Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots--get down to Disney World."


The power structure is continuing to expand the boundaries of its repressive agenda in the aftermath of September 11. As the U.S. government and military make war moves in other parts of the world, they are "securing the homefront" by attacking the rights of the people in new and dangerous ways. An indication of the seriousness of what the ruling class is up to is the statement by U.S. Senator Lieberman, during a hearing on the new Office of Homeland Security: "It is clear we crossed a bridge on September 11."

Martial Law in the Name of National Security

In 1999 two former U.S. senators, Warren Rudman and Gary Hart, prepared a report on "National Security in the 21st Century." That report--commissioned by both Republicans and Democrats--was the first major review of the U.S. national security apparatus since 1947. Among its proposals were the creation of a cabinet-level post with the fascistic title of "Homeland Security."

This post has now been created by Bush. The man appointed to head it up is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, known as a death-penalty zealot.

The day after Bush announced the creation of this office, Rudman and Hart appeared before Congress to elaborate on their vision of this agency. The picture they painted is of a powerful government body with a heavy military component, responsible for overseeing massive clampdowns within U.S. borders.

The Office of Homeland Security will coordinate the work of various agencies (40 in all)--especially those dealing with borders, such as Customs, Coast Guard, and the Border Patrol. According to Hart the new agency "should be the central coordinating mechanism for anticipating, preventing and responding to attacks" on the U.S.

According to Rudman, the nucleus of the new office would be the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA has figured prominently in the government's repressive planning in previous decades. In 1984 FEMA conducted an "exercise" known as Rex-84. The war-game scenario included the roundup of up to 400,000 immigrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border during a regional crisis. (This was at a time when the U.S. was actively working to overthrow the government of Nicaragua and carrying out other imperialist intervention in Central America.) The idea was to imprison immigrants--as well as domestic anti-government forces--in military and detention camps around the country.

Bush's new cabinet-level office will make the military a permanent feature of "homeland security." Rudman recommended that Bush make "homeland security a primary mission of the National Guard." Bush has already proposed that the Department of Defense name an "assistant secretary for homeland security." Rudman suggested Bush take things further by enlarging and strengthening the Joint Forces Command and Joint Task Force for Civil Support to deal with security within the U.S.

Much about the powers of the Office of Homeland Security is still in rough outline. But the overall thinking behind its creation makes clear that the rulers see this as a key body geared toward confronting crisis and challenges to their system--including, as a key element, the deployment of National Guard and Army troops to maintain control within the U.S. borders.

The Secret Roundups

As the government has been getting the Office of Homeland Security in motion, the police have been rounding up and detaining hundreds of people. In the third week of September, the Justice Department said 80 people had been detained in connection with the September 11 attacks. A week later Attorney General Ashcroft revealed that U.S. law enforcement has taken 352 people into custody and was looking for nearly 400 more.

The authorities refused to identify the 352 people or reveal the charges, claiming they didn't want to compromise the secrecy surrounding the investigation. Ninety-eight of those held were being held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for alleged "immigration violations"--even though some reportedly have legal visas. When Ashcroft appeared before Congress on September 17, he said that government agents had already conducted 324 searches and issued 3,410 subpoenas.

The full scope of the wide dragnet is unclear. There are 7,000 FBI agents going around questioning people around the country, and more and more people are being detained--some on immigration violations, some as "material witnesses," others on undisclosed charges. Aside from those detained, many thousands more are being questioned by FBI and other police agencies.

The power structure has set in motion a climate of fear and suspicion; and the FBI and other police agencies are operating within this to detain and intimidate people and to encourage others to become informers.

Broadening Police Powers

The Bush administration and other ruling class forces are also pushing hard to quickly pass laws giving the police expanded powers. These laws will allow the government much greater ability to tap people's phones, detain people, and collect information from other governments.

Attorney General Ashcroft has drafted something called the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on one aspect of the proposed law: "A court order to monitor the phone numbers that a suspect calls or the e-mail addresses that he or she sends messages to would apply not just in the jurisdiction in which it is granted but also nationally. An order granted by one judge would be valid across the country." Ashcroft's proposals would also allow the police to seize recorded voice mail.

Ashcroft also wants to expand the ability of U.S. police agencies to use the work of police from other governments which don't face the same kind of legal restrictions that currently exist in the U.S. In other words, U.S. police agencies would be able to openly receive information gathered by Europol (European Police Office), Mossad (Israeli political police), or others through certain kinds of telephone and electronic surveillance officially prohibited under current U.S. laws.

Yet another police-state proposal from Ashcroft is to give the government the ability to indefinitely detain immigrants suspected of "terrorism" and deport them without presenting any evidence.

Ashcroft also wants to expand the government's ability to seize the financial assets of organizations that the government brands as "terrorist" or accuses of "supporting terrorists." Ashcroft made his proposal the day after Bush announced that the U.S. had frozen the assets of a number of such groups.

Police-State Measures at Airports

Some of the most extreme police measures are being implemented at airports and in relation to air travel. In a sense, these measures are "setting the bar" on the kind of repressive measures that the authorities want to make acceptable or "normal" in other spheres.

First, there is the legitimizing of racial profiling. People from the Middle East, or who look like they are from that region, or who have certain kind of names are being stopped and searched repeatedly at airports. In many cases, people "fitting the description" have been ordered off airplanes or prevented from boarding--even after passing though many layers of security checkpoints.

The government is moving to greatly increase the presence of armed personnel at airports and in passenger planes. Bush said he wanted as many as 5,000 National Guard troops deployed at 420 U.S. airports. And he wants Congress to authorize the hiring of thousands of armed air marshals to fly undercover on passenger flights. The prospect of federal agents firing guns inside crowded jetliners can hardly be comforting to air travelers. And the fears of travelers weren't eased by U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's announcement that mid-level Air Force generals can shoot down suspected hijacked commercial planes without higher approval.

There is active work to install "biometric" face-scanning technology at airports. Using this technology, police can use computers to compare people's faces taken through video surveillance cameras with a government database of "wanted" people. USA Today reported that "federal officials have told biometrics firms 'to get cracking.'"

In the air terminals, passengers are already being subject to incredible levels of intrusion. People must repeatedly produce their IDs and allow bags to be searched. All metal items are being seized before passengers board--from penknives to tweezers. The Baltimore-Washington International Airport has even removed all the knives from its restaurants, including plastic ones.


Capitalizing on the pain that people are feeling after September 11, the rulers are asking--and forcing--people to back the system's war moves and to accept increased police-state repression. The actions of these rulers are not in the interests of the people--and they must be opposed.

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