Our Growing Police State
Last week, the FBI released its preliminary crime statistics for the first half of 2011, and across the nation violent crimes dropped 6.7% while property crimes dropped 3.7%. This continues a downward trend that dates back to the 1970's.
Many of the violent crimes reported this year have been sensational. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and Federal Judge John Roll were targeted by a lone, crazed gunman and there were a number of other gruesome crimes. The Giffords/Roll shooting was brought to an end by a bystander. The Ft. Hood massacre on November 5, 2009, which killed 13 American soldiers and wounded 29 others was brought to an end by two base police officers using conventional sidearms and procedures. The warning signs for this terrorist attack, the first on American soil since 9/11, were ignored and yet it was the local cops on the beat who faced and dealt with a terrible crime.
Every case one can think of was resolved by conventional methods. And yet the police powers of government on a local and national level have been growing at an alarming rate. And despite a dissonant data base there is a growing trend towards militarization of police forces and of an invasive state security apparatus.
The concept of militarization of police forces in this country began with the Special Weapons & Tactics (SWAT) teams in Los Angeles in 1967 -68. Its formation was a response to events including the Watts riots of 1965, and the emergence of snipers such as Charles Whitman, who killed 13 people on the campus of the University of Texas in 1966; the rise of armed revolutionary groups such as the Weathermen and, later, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Eventually SWAT returned to a more traditional police role of hostage/barricade incidents and suicide intervention.
Prior to and concurrent with this, the FBI in its battle with communism regularly investigated American citizens and the Hoover Files became famous. Today they are known primarily for salacious tidbits in the files on celebrities such as John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe. It was a time with different mores and the democratic principles of the country were in a cold war with a real and formidable enemy. Such was Hoover's justification.
With the fall of the Soviet Empire, instead of the "end of history", the world was fragmented into dysfunctional states and many of the same pawns used during the Cold War turned their hands towards criminal operations. The drug wars became the new front for law enforcement. Sometimes the gangs were as well or better equipped than the police.
Today, Afghanistan provides 90+% of the world's heroin while the largest military action in the 21st Century takes place in that country; the opium poppies in many cases grow right up to the razor wire of American bases. A de facto civil war is taking place between the government and the narcotraficantes in Mexico that has cost 36,000 lives. Today the street prices of cocaine and heroin are at historic lows. It would seem that the War on Drugs is truly lost and that our government simply doesn't care. And yet over $20 Billion/year is spent on the War on Drugs; most of it on law enforcement. This seems to be a very poor return on the investment.
On September 11, 2001 the jihad being waged against the West since the mid 90's struck at the heart of the infidel empire and 3,000 civilians were murdered. Everything changed that day. The West invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq with the goal of defeating the jihadists. Over 10 years later there has not been a single successful attack on the United States. Attacks in the UK, Spain, and Indonesia were successful, but there has been a steady decline caused by greater global cooperation and information sharing as the primary differentiators.
Along the way a massive security infrastructure and bureaucracy was created. The Patriot Act authorized the broad use of enhanced surveillance techniques and intelligence gathering while including domestic terrorism under the scope of the intelligence services. To date the only truly domestic terror prosecution seems to have been a few retired white supremacists in Georgia. The Ft. Hood massacre was officially classified by the White House recently as a workplace related shooting.
A key provision of the Patriot Act was the expansion of the authority of the Department of the Treasury to investigate money laundering, and yet the narcotics trade has risen from $321 Billion in 2003 according to the United Nations to an estimate of $500 Billion this year by the Center for Strategic & International Studies. In Afghanistan, hundreds of millions of dollars in cash are shipped out to banks in Dubai openly and with the government's approval with no questions asked. The opium/heroin trade alone is estimated at $4 Billion/year which funds both the warlords on our side and the Taliban warlords. So Afghanistan is not only bleeding our military, but also our civilian population.
And we now have a Department of Homeland Security that employs over 216,000. The Transportation Security Agency consists of over 58,000 of those employees. The Border Patrol is of equivalent size, while ICE employs approximately 20,500. In an address delivered by retired General Barry McCaffrey, he emphasized the real dangers of the War on Drugs and an out of control border. The criminal networks have become ever more sophisticated and now act as paramilitaries, destabilizing one of our most important allies. And yet the inward directed nature of much of our security establishment does nothing to address real and present dangers.
The Wall Street Journal in an article entitled "Federal Offenses: law enforcement teams grow at government agencies" wrote on Saturday of the proliferation of heretofore nonexistent police forces in federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, Labor Department, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Agency, and many others who have the power to conduct investigations, seek indictments, or simply raid violators of even regulatory violations. Cases where armed agents have raided homes and workplaces have included the infamous Gibson Guitar raid for illegal wood; documentation errors on otherwise legal imports, and even the recent batch of a 881 lb. Bluefin Tuna by a New Bedford trawler. "Put the tuna on the ground and raise your hands".
The Internal Revenue Service has been strong arming countries around the world to open their bank records not to trace narcotics cash or Russian mobsters, but income tax evaders. The "Stop On Line Piracy Act" (SOPA) and the recent NDAA Act, which is now law, have broadened the policing authority of the Federal government to a never before greater degree at a time when ordinary crime is decreasing. The SOPA Act, in the words of one IT manager, would make our internet similar to China's. The NDAA allows for the President to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects, including American citizens. The law then becomes a matter of semantics to the unprincipled.
In the meantime, corruption and cronyism have risen to a level not seen since the 1870's.
Nat Hentoff has written extensively on the assault on civil liberties and on due process starting with many of the measures of the Bush Administration. This accelerated, according to Mr. Hentoff, under President Obama, who has concentrated power in the White House to an extraordinary degree. By avoiding Congressional approval and his own Executive Branch through the appointment of "czars" ranging from the auto industry to regulation to ethics to climate to consumer affairs, the president has subverted the separation of powers repeatedly in an imperial presidency that is unparalleled.
Crime rates have been dropping for 20 years and yet today there is more danger to civil liberties posed by government than ever before. Our government continues to expand the definition of crime while approving special powers usually found in police states.
When Members of Congress urged the President to ignore their own branch of government during the recent Congressional debt ceiling debate and act by fiat or the insistence of some of those same Members of Congress on the recusal of Justice Thomas in the health care case before the Supreme Court, one can easily understand the danger of even a well intentioned government to its own people.
As the terrorism threat used to rationalize many of these powers has receded, government power has never been greater or more at odds with the Constitution. In the meantime the narcoterrorism network which funds many those terrorist organizations, is on the sidelines. The law is at odds with itself.
Our government has built an anti-Constitutional framework that can and will eventually be turned against our citizens. On one side we have our civil/criminal system, and the other the growing power of Orwellian dysfunction. Think about it.