A watched America is not a free America

I stopped for gas on my way home last night, inserting my credit card into the reader at the gas pump at the Exxon station on North Main Street in Floyd, Virginia. It cost just under $40 to fill the 19-gallon gas tank on my Jeep Wrangler.

With the tank filled, I retrieved the receipt and climbed back into the Jeep but before I could start the engine a bank of high speed computers operated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at 3801 Fairfax Drive in Arlington, Virginia, 300 miles away, already knew I had purchased 17.3 gallons of unleaded regular at $2.29.9 a gallon in a small community in the Blue Ridge Mountain.

The computer compared that purchase with my last gas purchase – 14.7 gallons at the Travel America Truckstop just outside Roanoke four days ago and added the information to the computerized profile it keeps on me and millions of other American citizens.

That same computer also knew that, before leaving my studio for the day, I purchased software from MacMall in Torrance, California. It registered the purchase within seconds after the bank authorized my purchase on my VISA card.

DARPA knows my electric bill increased 316 percent during the cold, icy weather of December, which prescription drugs my wife and I use and, in a linkup with the National Security Agency, who I talk to on my home, office and wireless phones and how long we talk to them. In many cases, they have recordings of the conversation.

Paranoid fantasy? I wish it were. Welcome to America 2006, a totalitarian police state far beyond anything George Orwell imagined in his book, 1984, which, not coincidently, is on the watch list for suspicious material if you happen to check it out of your public library.  Most of this takes place under the so-called “Terrorist Information Awareness” program, a data mining operation Congress thought it had shut down but – as chronicled on this web site last year survived when the Bush administration moved it into the Pentagon’s “black bag” operations, a super-secret area where Congressional oversight is not allowed.

Most Americans are watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – 366 in leap years. The federal government watches their actions, catalogs their movements, tracks their spending and travel and then uses the information to build profiles – profiles based on the belief that every American is a potential threat to the peace and security of the United States and cannot be trusted.

Those who support such actions say that if we have done nothing wrong we have nothing to fear from such surveillance.  They’re lying. People whose only crime is speaking out against an oppressive government cannot board a commercial airline flight because the Transportation Security Agency put them on a “No-Fly” list that contains the names of 80,000 other Americans.

No one knows for sure how many innocent victims have been seized without warrants and held incommunicado without due process under the USA Patriot Act but most estimates run into the thousands.

“Most people just don’t understand how pervasive [US] government surveillance is,” says U.S. military analyst John Pike. “Frankly, they can get what they want.”

Dan Smith, a military-affairs analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, is also a retired US Army colonel, and a senior fellow on military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

“More than buildings were brought down that September 11,” Smith says.  “Historical protections of speech, assembly, protest, and privacy enjoyed by U.S. citizens and legal residents (“U.S. persons”), also came under attack as a stampeded Congress, goaded by a panicked and paranoid administration, abdicated its constitutional role—rather, its constitutional duty—to prevent the undue concentration of power in the Chief Executive.”

Publicly, Smith says, the face of this expansion is the “Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004” (PL 108-458). “Among other provisions, the law increases the number of individuals engaged in collecting and analyzing information—what is known as Human Intelligence or HUMINT. (One estimate is that 4,000 agents were added just to the military programs.),” he says.

But, as we now know, the government doesn’t need any stinking laws to put the screws to the freedoms that Americans used to enjoy.

“With barely a ripple of congressional ‘oversight,’ those newly empowered must have thought almost any practice would be permitted,” Smith says. “After all, the president and most other officials insisted that in the much-changed post-9/11 world the old rules and the old legal signposts were completely outdated and had to be rewritten. The problem? The White House and the Pentagon didn’t want to wait for the rules to be changed. In fact, as chronicled by the New York Times (December 11), NBC Nightly News (December 13), and the Los Angeles Times, U.S. Army counter-intelligence agents undertook a nation-wide program to infiltrate organizations the military deemed potential “threats” to military personnel and bases.”

Not to mention the President of the United States ignoring the law and ordering the warrantless spying on Americans by the NSA, an action that attorney general Alberto Gonzales admits was taken because “we were advised that that [obtaining a legislated change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] would be difficult, if not impossible.”

Bush attempts to justify his illegal actions by constantly claiming he is a “wartime president” who uses powers granted to him as “commander in chief.”

But Peter Irons, in his book, War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution, notes that our Founding Fathers limited the “commander in chief’s” powers to “ordering troops to repel an invasion force.” The title, they felt, was more ceremonial than actual. Those same founding fathers would be shocked at the loss of freedoms in today’s America.

And it will only get worse. The Federal Highway Administration, through its Office of Transportation Studies, announced $11 million in grants in December for work on a nationwide monitoring system that would allow state and federal governments to track where Americans drive through Global Positioning Satellite monitors placed in cars.

The grants are based on pilot projects the feds have been running in Oregon and Washington State, supposedly to allow states to tax motorists on the miles they actually drive, and based on the results of the project, they hope to make it nationwide. The highway administration report also cites two Supreme Court decisions, U.S. v Knotts and U.S. v Karo that say Americans have no expectation of privacy when traveling on public roads.

Even more chilling is a survey hyped by the Department that says their studies shows “less than 7 percent of the respondents expressed concerns about recording their vehicle’s movements.”

A tyrant’s best ally has always been an apathetic populace. Citizens of Germany learned that awful truth in 1939.