The Year of Big Brother

Revolutionary Worker #1165, September 1, 2002, posted at

"Phones tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the DA."

Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues

"To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message to you is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends."

John Ashcroft, Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, December 2001

"The only thing they care about is maintaining the stability of their rule within the U.S. as a base for their whole international system. They don't care about the safety of the people in the U.S."

RCP Chairman Bob Avakian


Pity any Rip Van Winkle who went to sleep on September 10, 2001 and awoke in September 2002. What they would find is a landscape awash in police-state initiatives. Under the justification of "preventing terrorism" and "keeping people safe," federal law enforcement seized on people's fears to mount a repressive juggernaut.

Leading all this has been the U.S. Justice Department headed by Attorney General John Ashcroft--a man who embodies the term Christian fascist. This is someone who describes Confederate generals as heroes, who views dancing as a sin, covers nude statues in his office building, and dreams of completely criminalizing abortions. The irony here recalls how in the book 1984, the police and torture agency is bitterly called the "Ministry of Love."

First Came Airport Security...

After 9/11, the National Guard was sent to the airports and train stations. Soon after, laws were adopted calling for intensified screening of passengers. People now expect to be pulled out of airport lines in the most intrusive random searches. Meanwhile undercover agents in the "Sky Marshall" program fly anonymously on planes, and computers profile passengers for even more intensive scrutiny.

Then Came the Legislation...

Congress moved to adopt major repressive laws to allow law enforcement a whole new level of reach. The USA/PATRIOT Act adopted overwhelmingly by Congress in November is a grab bag of police powers. It broadens the ability to subpoena e-mail and Internet information; lets the FBI share wiretap information and what is supposed to be secret grand jury information with agencies like the CIA and INS without a court order; permits "roving" wiretaps--taps that cover any phone used by the person named in a warrant; allows search warrants for the seizure of voice mail; and allows "sneak and peek" searches where a warrant is executed but the target is not told of the search till after it has happened. It has numerous provisions to monitor bank accounts; carries provisions to allow turning over education records to the Attorney General; allows mandatory detention until deportation of anyone the Attorney General brands a threat to national security; and grants broader powers to the government's secret FISA (Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act) court to include such things as requesting lists from libraries and bookstores of the names of books bought or borrowed by someone the government has put under suspicion. The law creates a new crime of "domestic terrorism," which the ACLU points out "could potentially allow the government to levy heavy penalties for relatively minor offenses, including political protests."

Then Came the Department of Homeland Security...

After 9/11 came calls for a new "Homeland Security" department--a major restructuring of the federal government that is currently snaking its way through Congress. This super-entity will combine 22 agencies and 170,000 government employees into a single operation designed to wage the "war on terrorism" on and within the U.S. borders. The plan is to integrate organizations such as the INS, Coast Guard and Customs and there will be a major role for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is set to coordinate efforts in the face of major disorders and incidents. Along with this the U.S. military has now created a "Northern Command" which will be the headquarters for the deployment of the National Guard and other U.S. military forces within the U.S.

Then the FBI...

In May Ashcroft officially relaxed guidelines so that local FBI agents can initiate spying operations without "probable cause" of actual crimes being planned or committed (the previous criteria) and without prior approval from FBI headquarters. These changes will put many groups under much closer police surveillance--especially in Muslim communities and among radical political trends.

The reorganization of the FBI is geared toward making it into a "domestic CIA"-- notorious worldwide for bloody coups and murderous operations. 25 CIA experts are helping reorganize FBI headquarters and its procedures. Other CIA agents will go to FBI desks in each city to facilitate changes, and FBI officials will now go through CIA training.

The FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies are working to develop and integrate their databases--to centralize and consolidate intelligence. The FBI is also broadening its snooping of e-mail and the Internet using its Carnivore snoop system and gearing up to routinely send police spies to meetings and religious gatherings.

Detaining and Profiling...

All this has gone on in the context of massive interrogations and roundups--with a sharp focus on immigrants. In a wave of detentions in the weeks after 9/11, over 1,000 people were rounded up. Some were later released, others continue to be held. The full identities of those held have not been revealed and many have disappeared into the U.S. prison labyrinth.

In November, Bush signed an order to set up special military tribunals to try people without U.S. citizenship who are charged with "terrorism." These tribunals operate under the president's order. He decides who comes before them and judges and prosecutors will report directly to him. These cases can be heard in secret; hearsay and evidence that civilian courts may find illegally obtained may be permissible in such a court. Only 2/3 of the presiding officers would be needed to convict and no appeals would be allowed.

In November the FBI was set loose to begin "interviewing" 5,200 young men, between the ages of 18 and 33 who had come to the U.S. since January 2000. Among the criteria for the interviews is that the men had come from 26 unnamed countries where the government says there are terrorists. None of the interviewees were suspected of any crime, except for fitting a profile. One aim here was to intimidate people into becoming government snitches.

In June, Ashcroft announced an initiative to fingerprint and photograph immigrants from the Middle East entering the U.S.--an initiative that would include tens of thousand of people a year.

Then there is Guantánamo Bay, Cuba...

Here the U.S. set up a prison camp to hold hundreds of prisoners from Afghanistan. Though the prisoners were captured as the U.S. waged war in Afghanistan, the U.S. refuses to call them prisoners of war--referring to them as "unlawful combatants" (with no charges filed against them). While the government crowed about "American's love of freedom," people were treated to images of men landing in Guantánamo wearing orange jumpsuits, hands bound, eyes covered with black-out goggles, mouths covered with masks. And politicians and the media openly talked about torture as a legitimate investigative technique.

This was part of a frenzy of discarding long-held legal principles. In October Ashcroft signed a directive allowing monitoring of conversations between lawyers and clients in federal custody without a warrant, if there is "reasonable suspicion" of "violence or terrorism." This was a blatant slap at attorney/client privilege. Then in April, the government indicted radical attorney Lynne Stewart. The government claims she "aided terrorism" in talks with her imprisoned client the Islamist Sheik Abdel Rahman. Among other things the indictment revealed the government had been taping conversations between Stewart and her client for three years under a FISA warrant.

In May, FBI agents took U.S. citizen Jose Padilla into custody in Chicago, where he'd flown from Switzerland. The government claimed Padilla, who reportedly converted to Islam and took the name Abdulla al Muhajir and spent his last years living in Egypt and Pakistan, was a terrorist. However, there have been no formal charges against him. He has been held secretly in solitary confinement with no right to plead or request bail. He is not even facing trial. He is simply disappeared.

This case, where a U.S. citizen is being held without charges and is subject to the arbitrary and unchecked authority of the government, is setting a very dangerous precedent.

In August, John Ashcroft announced the government's desire for camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be "enemy combatants." According to a commentary in the Los Angeles Times (8/14/02) by Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, "Ashcroft's plan would allow him to order the indefinite incarceration of U.S. citizens and summarily strip them of their constitutional rights and access to the courts by declaring them enemy combatants."

Operation TIPS...

In late July, the Justice Department launched the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS). This chilling program seeks to enlist UPS drivers, utility people, train conductors and many others in an effort to become a sprawling network of "eyes and ears" for law enforcement. Under the pretense of heightening vigilance against terrorism, a huge chunk of the population is being solicited to spy on friends and neighbors, creating a frightening police-state atmosphere.

Targeting Resistance...

Federal government initiatives have been accompanied by an array of local laws and a generalized environment of repression.

Professors have been threatened with sanction and suspension for raising questions about U.S. government policies. Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, stepped out as a point person in attacking anti-war activism at universities. The TV host of Politically Incorrect , Bill Maher, was roundly denounced for questioning U.S. "death from a safe distance" bombing in Afghanistan, and eventually taken off the air. Songwriter Steve Earle's compassionate musings on the case of John Walker Lindh was rabidly attacked before it was even released. Meanwhile the police have been trotted out to attack demonstrators in Philadelphia and have massed at demonstrations like those against the World Economic Forum in New York. All this underscores that one of the chief aims of "homeland security" is to silence dissent.

Every move, every new initiative has been pitched to people as being in their best interests, to keep them safe--all the while the architecture and structure of a police state are more firmly put in place. And all of this is happening as the U.S. bares its fangs in the direction of the next country it will target in its self- proclaimed never-ending war. It has, in short, been a year of escalating repression challenging the forces of resistance to mount a counteroffensive.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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