Operation Citizen Snitch Sniffs Out
America's Most 'Unpatriotic'

By Ian Doherty
The Business Post - Ireland

It's the kind of initiative one would have expected to see in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or when Afghanistan was run by the Taliban.
A 'Citizen Corps' with a projected ten million members, given power by a centralised government to spy on friends, neighbours, colleagues and even people who attend the same church. Feel a bit suspicious about the guy sitting next to you at work who doesn't stand up for the national anthem? Ring the Hotline.
Do you feel that the pastor at your church isn't 100 per cent behind the government during his sermons? Ring the Hotline.
Is your neighbour critical of the police? Well, you know what to do.
This initiative is taking place in America, which has seen the gradual erosion of civil liberties in the wake of September 11 become a deluge this week with the launch of the Citizen Corps and Operation Tips projects, or Operation Citizen Snitch as its critics are calling it.
The latest in a long line of draconian measures to take place in America since John Ashcroft's appointment as Attorney General, both the Citizen Corps and Operation Tips have startled many civil libertarians who feel that the Bush administration's determination to oust Saddam Hussein has had the added -- and not unexpected -- bonus of deflecting public attention from some of their more severe domestic plans.
Both the Citizen Corps and Operation Tips (Terrorism Information and Prevention Service) are administered by the Department of Justice and, according to official documentation, "several other federal agencies", although it fails to mention that there are also provisions for the army to partake in police activities -- something unheard of in modern America.
According to their publicity material, "the programme will involve the millions of American workers who, in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places".
Effectively, this has deputised the nation, but apart from becoming a cranks' charter in the work place, the real thrust of Operation Tips is to enable postal workers, repair men and other people who have routine access to private houses to report anything suspicious. Anything at all. "These workers will use their common sense and knowledge of their environment to identify suspicious or unusual activity," goes the blurb.
Effectively, if a repair man arrives to fix your fridge, and happens to notice a copy of Michael Moore's book, Stupid White Men, on your counter, he would be within his remit to call the Hotline and you could, depending on how busy the local FBI field office is, find yourself receiving a visit from the federales.
It all sounds so absurd that most Americans are inclined to view such fears as an example of civil libertarianism gone bad. The only problem is that such events have already been going on for last ten months or so.
Earlier this year, police in San Diego broke up a meeting held by the aforementioned Moore to discuss the refusal of local venues to give him a venue to launch his book. As one observer at the time commented, "they didn't use force, but they had their clubs and pepper spray out and made it quite clear that they were prepared to use them".
While it's clear that America has enough Constitutional checks and balances to make sure it can't turn into a police state overnight, there is a growing mood of alarm that Bush and his inner circle are happy to try. And along the way, if they manage to drag America closer to a theocracy than ever before, fundamentalist Christian John Ashcroft won't be complaining.
As the White House gears itself up for an attack on Iraq, in complete contravention of international law and against the advice of the now marginalised Colin Powell, even some of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the people in charge of the Pentagon have expressed surprise at the White House's belligerent attitude.
"I've never seen a civilian politician with such guts for war," one of the JCoS told the press, and the strangely public way the White House is going about their preparations for any attack are seen by some American commentators as little more than an example of political sleight of hand that could have come straight from the last president."
Bill Clinton was a master of the political con trick. His major foreign military forays invariably coincided with some domestic problem. For instance, his bombing of Iraq in 1998 started just days before his impeachment was about to begin -- the impeachment was delayed.
As Americans focus on ousting the Iraqi leader, Bush has been giving a series of Homeland speeches where he has been warning that the "war will be fought on two fronts, against the enemy without and the enemy within".
It's surprisingly similar to one speech given by his father who, on launching Operation Desert Storm more than a decade ago, warned of an internal enemy "weakening our country." At that time it was drug users, now it is the threat of terrorism.
At this point in time it is believed that more than 1,000 Arab Americans are being held somewhere in detention. The reason the figure is not exact is because the authorities don't have to release any information, don't have to charge those being held and can continue doing so with impunity. Using legislation last used against German spies in World War II, these people could even be executed without notification.
As Rumsfeld steels himself for war abroad, Ashcroft is the domestic general, seeing not Reds but Browns under his bed. He has even been privately keen to discuss the possibility of interning Arab Americans, something America hasn't done since it shamefully interned nearly 100,000 American men, women and children of Japanese extraction during the second world war -- something most Americans are prepared to accept was an outrage.
A good example of where John Ashcroft is coming from, was his appointment of Peter Kirsanow to the US Civil Rights Commission, an oxymoronic title for the organisation following Kirsanow's recent statement that internment camps could be set up if there is another attack, "and if they (those responsible for any second attack) come from the same ethnic group as those who attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about human rights".
But perhaps the most bizarre twist of all came when Dave Lindorf, a journalist for web-based magazine,, signed up for Operation Tips and when he phoned the Hotline to provide some bogus information.
He was passed through to the production offices of a television programme.
He writes, "instead of getting a hardened G-person when I called, a mellifluous receptionist's voice answered, "America's Most Wanted". A little flummoxed, I said I was expecting to reach the FBI. "Aren't you familiar with the TV programme 'America's Most Wanted'?" she asked patiently. "We've been asked to take the FBI's Tips calls for them'."
So now, when those Americans who don't act American enough find themselves answering the door to the FBI some dark night, they could also find themselves being filmed by a crime-based reality programme.
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