- 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
- 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
- But perhaps the most bizarre twist of all came when Dave
Lindorf, a journalist for web-based magazine, salon.com, 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
- 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.
- Copyright © 2000 Sunday Business Post Ireland