- Well, the leash is off.
- America's KGB, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has
had its already sweeping powers augmented yet again under a set of new
"guidelines" issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
- Keeping in mind that among other things, you can already
be arrested and held incommunicado without bail, conversations with your
attorney (if you're allowed one) be spied on and taped and you might even
find yourself tried by military tribunal, how could things get worse?
- Believe it, they just did.
- The FBI's previous role was supposedly investigation
of certain interstate crimes and crimes prosecutable under federal rather
than state laws. Its purpose was primarily reactive rather than proactive,
at least in theory. In practice, the FBI violated it's "prime directive"
uncounted times over the years, with unlawful black bag jobs, surreptitious
wiretaps and surveillance, and other various tramplings on the spirit and
letter of US Constitution.
- However, each one of these shenanigans was forbidden
and the courts and the management of the FBI well knew it. Public exposure
of these unsavory activities (most notably in a 1960s book called "The
FBI Nobody Knows" by Fred Cook, based on a series of stories in The
Nation) led to some stringent restraints on the FBI. Again, at least in
- Under the rubric of the "War on Terror," Ashcroft
just threw those restraints in the trash.
- "Under the current guidelines, FBI investigators
cannot surf the web the way you or I can. Nor can they simply walk into
a public event or a public place to observe ongoing activities. They have
no clear authority to use commercial data services that any business in
America can use." says Ashcroft.
- Think about what's being said here: The FBI (again, in
theory) was forbidden to spy on an individual American citizen's web site,
monitor public meetings at churches, synagogues and mosques, or use Google
or Lexis-Nexis to gather information on citizens - unless such activity
was tied to a specific authorized investigation.
- Now, based on the whim of some anonymous GS-13, FBI special
agents can conceivably type "The FBI Stinks" into Google, gather
up their hits and open files on any and all individuals thus collared.
All this with no court order, or any oversight whatsoever, beyond that
of the tissue paper guidelines issued by Ashcroft.
- If your pastor, priest or rabbi happens to deliver an
anti-war or anti-government message in a religious sermon, the FBI might
well be in the audience taking notes - and names. If you think this is
far-fetched, you are terribly naive. Not only has it happened in the past,
it's happening today, and now it will increase.
- In today's atmosphere of fear look for budget and staffing
increases in this already bloated federal behemoth. Quoting from TracFBI,
an invaluable Internet resource located at http://www.trac.syr.edu/tracfbi
- The FBI in 1999 had more special agents and support staff
than at any time in its entire 90-year history, more than at the height
of World War Two, the depth of the Cold War with the Soviet Block, or the
confused period of civil rights demonstrations and anti-war demonstrations
before and during the Vietnam War. In 1999, there were a total of 28,192
employees - 11,646 agents and 16,546 support staff. Focusing on the Clinton
years alone, there were 15% more FBI employees in 1998 than there were
in 1992. In a striking contrast, the total number of all federal civilian
workers had declined by 18% during the same period.
- Comprehensive federal employment data show that the number
of FBI intelligence officers almost quintupled during the Clinton years,
jumping from 224 in 1992 to 1,025 in 1999. The actual duties of the intelligence
officers are not known. But the government handbook on occupations says
the FBI employees assigned to this category are involved in the "collection,
analysis, evaluation, interpretation and dissemination of information on
political, economic, social cultural, physical, geographic, scientific,
or military conditions, trends, and forces in foreign and domestic areas
which directly or indirectly affect national security." Although most
aspects of the government's efforts to deal with terrorists, spies, computer
hackers and other such threats are classified, the surge in FBI intelligence
officers is compatible with repeated statements by FBI Director Louis Freeh
and other Clinton Administration officials that stepped-up government efforts
are required to combat the growth in potential threats to national security.
- Parenthetically, one has to wonder how long valuable
sites like FBITrac will survive under the new regime, much less sites that
are frankly anti-government, such as the one where you are reading this
- Remember, the FBITrac paragraphs above were written before
the terrible events of 9/11 or the passage of the horribly mis-named "USA
Patriot Act." Who knows what increases are taking place now, and will
we even be allowed to know? Personally, I doubt we will. Undoubtedly such
information will now be classified, lest it aid "the evil ones."
- With the institution of these new guidelines, Ashcroft
has indeed removed an already weak leash from a federal agency not known
for restraint or respect for constitutional values. The FBI now has free
rein to spy on American citizens in their churches, on their computers
and telephones and in their homes.
- How much longer will we tolerate this slide into Stalinism?