Surveilling a subject people

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You know we’re in a new world when the ACLU hires former Congressman (and Clinton impeachment fanatic) Bob Barr as a consultant. We’re in a world that continually surprises — who, after all, even thinks up a name like “Total Information Awareness”? — and yet a world that, sadly enough, isn’t faintly beyond our powers to imagine, as witness Ruth Rosen’s recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle on what her “hyphenated” students feared back in 1999.

In the online Asia Times today, Jim Lobe pushes forward what we know of Poindexter’s surveillance program. Of course, sometimes over-the-top programs like this (as with the Tips one that preceded it) draw all the fire and, when they finally seem to go away, we pay less attention to what remains — in the USA Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Bill and the like.

Back in the late 1960s when the CIA and the Pentagon crossed various lines into domestic surveillance, some people already recognized that this was a matter of empire coming home. As with the murder of Chilean politician Orlando Letellier in Washington DC, this was spillage from the sort of thing that had become more or less routine abroad. Now, all that looks increasingly small scale. It’s not simply that the lines between military and civilian, or covert operations abroad and at home are crumbling, but that in the long run Americans are evidently to be treated like another subject people. Tom

Prophetic students
By Ruth Rosen, November 25, 2002, San Francisco Chronicle

Who would have imagined how swiftly the American government could threaten our precious civil liberties and basic rights in the name of fighting terrorism?

Looking back, I now realize that my former students saw it coming.

The year was 1999. Bill Clinton was president, the stock market was soaring, and the 175 students in my history course at UC Davis had no reason to fear the kind of secret detainment or government surveillance the Bush administration has already employed and that Congress has just sanctioned.

But they did. This is California and three-quarters of the students in that course were either children or grandchildren of immigrants. Many felt vulnerable to attacks on their culture, religion and patriotism.

To read more of this article in the San Francisco Chronicle, click here.

Why Orwell matters
By Jim Lobe, November 26, 2002, Asia Times

WASHINGTON – A Pentagon plan to build a giant computer system capable of mining thousands of databases containing the most private information about United States and foreign citizens is coming under fire from civil liberties groups and lawmakers in both major parties.

The Orwellian-sounding ‘Total Information Awareness’ (TIA) project, the brainchild of a leading player in the notorious Iran-Contra scandal during the government of former president Ronald Reagan, is designed to create “a virtual, centralized, grand database” that includes the financial, medical, communication and travel records of virtually everyone entering or living in the US.

The idea was brought to the Defense Department immediately after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by retired Admiral John Poindexter, Reagan’s national security advisor, who, since his disgraced role in the Iran-Contra affair, has been working in the data technology field.

To read more of this article in the Asia Times, click here.