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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Saturday, May 6, 2006

Your local police: To protect and serve spy.

With all the attention given to spying and surveillance that the feds do, such as the NSA's illegal wiretapping program, it's easy to forget that there are way more state and local police than there are FBI and other federal agents — and that these state and local agencies are doing their own spying.

An article by David Kaplan in the current issue of US News is one of the best efforts by the 'mainstream' press to shed some light on what these local spy shops are doing, as well as on the federal money and technical support that's behind these local surveillance and intelligence units and on the threat they pose to civil liberties and privacy.

U.S. News has identified nearly a dozen cases in which city and county police, in the name of homeland security, have surveilled or harassed animal-rights and antiwar protesters, union activists, and even library patrons surfing the Web.... [Federal] officials have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into once discredited state and local police intelligence operations. Millions more have gone into building up regional law enforcement databases to unprecedented levels....

Despite a tendency to give too much credence to official assurances that these new local spy shops won't be prone to the abuses that characterized the old police 'red squads', Kaplan does a good job of showing how common surveillance by local and state police has become and how often it has already been turned against people and groups who are exercising their constitutional rights to political activity and free expression.

Further blurring the lines over what constitutes "homeland security" has been a push by Washington for states to identify possible terrorists. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security began requiring states to draft strategic plans that included figures on how many "potential threat elements" existed in their backyards. The definition of suspected terrorists was fairly loose--PTEs were groups or individuals who might use force or violence "to intimidate or coerce" for a goal "possibly political or social in nature." In response, some states came up with alarming numbers. Most of the reports are not available publicly, but U.S. News obtained nine state homeland security plans and found that local officials have identified thousands of "potential" terrorists. There are striking disparities, as well. South Carolina, for example, found 68 PTEs, but neighboring North Carolina uncovered 506. Vermont and New Hampshire found none at all. Most impressive was Texas, where in 2004 investigators identified 2,052 potential threat elements. One top veteran of the FBI's counterterrorism force calls the Texas number "absurd." Included among the threats cited by the states, sources say, are biker gangs, militia groups, and "save the whales" environmentalists.

"The PTE methodology was flawed," says a federal intelligence official familiar with the process, "and it's no longer being used." Nonetheless, these "threat elements" have, in some cases, become the basis for intelligence gathering by local and state police. Concern over the process prompted the ACLU in New Jersey to sue the state, demanding that eight towns turn over documents on PTEs identified by local police.

You can read the full article here.

Via Follow Me Here.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:30 PM | Get permalink




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