Published on Wednesday, November 20, 2002 by Capitol Hill Blue
by Doug Thompson
Wonder if any of the vast sums of money approved Tuesday for the new Department of Homeland Security are set aside for black uniforms with knee-length boots and black leather trench coats?
Should be. Since we've gone to all this trouble to create the new American Gestapo we might as well let them look the part.
Excuse me if I don't join in all the senseless celebration over creation of yet another mammoth bureaucracy of the federal government. Pardon me if I don't go ga-ga over a federal agency that has been given unlimited powers to spy on Americans, trample all over the First and Fourth Amendments, ignore the privacy of anyone it chooses and violate the rights of every man, woman and child who used to live in the Land of the Free.
Our own paranoia has accomplished what Osama bin Laden and his minions could not with hijacked airplanes and vague threats about future attacks these fears have forced America to abandon its principles and create a police state.
This new Department of Homeland Security has the power to wiretap any American it wants, without a court order, without cause and without justification to any higher authority. Homeland Security goon squads will have the power to enter any American home, without a search warrant, without probable cause, simply because someone somewhere says, hey, this guy might be a threat. No checks and balances, no due process. Nothing.
Video cameras at ATMs, convenience stores, department stores and office building lobbies already record Americans living in urban areas 75-100 times on any given day but that isn't enough for the new American Gestapo. They plan to erect video cameras on streets, along public highways, in neighborhoods and deploy them on helicopters and police cars to record everything you and I do every day of the year.
We are entering a new era of domestic surveillance, says retired FBI agent Franklin Postel. One where the constitution is secondary to the cause. The new department has the power to document the day-to-day actions of any American it chooses.
A secret court decision last May already gives the Justice Department expanded powers to wiretap phones, spy on Americans and share information with other law enforcement agencies.
These powers, granted under a dangerous piece of legislation called the USA Patriot Act, allow Attorney General John Ashcroft to sign away the normal rights and protections that Americans used to enjoy little things like probable cause, due process and the now forgotten belief that any accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Those who support these expanded powers say the system has "safeguards" where law enforcement personnel must get a judge's approval before wiretapping an American family but those who have studied the law said the "safeguards" are, in fact, "carefully worded loopholes."
"The law only requires an 'administrative review' by the very department that wants to spy on Americans," says retired federal judge John Macklin. "Most judges would not approve such wiretaps but the law is engineered to make sure that most judges never see the request."
Ashcroft says he will implement the new powers immediately and is already increasing surveillance of Americans.
Look closer at the powers granted under the act and you will find things that would make Hitler proud.
They include provisions to allow private citizens to spy on other private citizens without fear of prosecution if the Department determines their actions were conducted in the national interest.
I've read some of the abstracts on the new law and they take the handcuffs off people like me, says private detective Andrew Burlingame. I can tap anyone I damn well please. All I have to do is claim I thought the guy was a terrorist.
Under the new law, an agent of the Department of Homeland Security can walk into your bank, flash a badge and demand to see your checking and saving account records. No court order. All they need is the presumption of guilt. They can stop you in your car without cause and search it and you. They can hold you in jail for 30 days or more without filing any charges or allowing you to make any phone calls.
They can call up America Online and put a trace on all your Internet activity without a court order. They can require Visa to turn over all your credit card activity records without notice.
"Again, the process only requires an internal administrative review and not the involvement of any independent judicial authority," says retired judge Macklin. "It violates all previous standards for due process and probable cause."
In other words, they can do any damn thing they want and there isn't a thing that any of us can do about it.
Some may argue the current terrorist threat requires such drastic measures. But what happens when that threat is met? The Department of Homeland Security and its draconian powers will still exist. Who will determine the new threat? Who will decide who becomes the enemy?
"An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation," the leader of another country once wrote. "We must take steps to ensure our domestic security and protect our homeland."
That was Adoph Hitler, writing about creation of the Gestapo in Nazi Germany.
Wecome to the American Gestapo. Be careful what you say and do. They are watching and they will be watching from now on.
Doug Thompson is the founder and publisher of Capitol Hill Blue.