Just when you thought George Bush's abuse of the Constitution was ending, civil rights were clobbered one more time under this administration. If you thought your rights to privacy couldn't be diluted any further under these paranoids, you'll be unhappy (but not surprised to learn that after FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before Congress this week, his agency will issue new "guidelines" that permit both spying and profiling activities that heretofore have been prohibited. Another favor from an ever-expanding national security bureaucracy that promises more security in exchange for your freedom. As history has shown repeatedly, it's a bad bargain.
The media were briefed on the FBI's plans this week. The plans are scary because they are written not just for the big, bad terrorists but also for common criminals, as in ordinary Americans accused of a crime.
According to the ACLU, "the new guidelines would lower standards for beginning "assessments" (precursors to investigations), conducting surveillance and gathering evidence. These so-called "guidelines" would replace existing rules in five areas: general criminal, national security, foreign intelligence, civil disorders and demonstrations. Sound boring? Well, see how boring it is the next time your neighbors want to protest abortion, a war, an unwanted development or just about anything else.
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The ACLU and other privacy groups are concerned that the "rewritten guidelines have been drafted in a way to give the FBI the ability to begin surveillance without factual evidence, stating that a generalized 'threat' is enough to use certain techniques. Also under the new guidelines, a person's race or ethnic background could be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move the ACLU believes will institute racial profiling as a matter of policy. The guidelines would also give the FBI the ability to use intrusive investigative techniques in advance of public demonstrations. These techniques would allow agents to conduct pre-textual (undercover) interviews, use informants and conduct physical surveillance in connection with First Amendment protected activities."
If you think that only the jihadis will pay a price under this, think again. Al-Qaida isn't mentioned anywhere in these guidelines – but you, my fellow citizens, are mentioned.
Take the idea of pretextual (undercover) interviews. These were tried in the 1950s and '60s where government agents actually posed as journalists and other professionals. It bred the kind of fear and distrust of neighbors and friends that most people thought only came out of Communist countries. It takes years to overcome this kind of trust disruption in a civil society. It steers America toward an informer nation. Is this where we want to go?
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A friend of mine who in turn friends with a "target" of one such investigation was visited by hte FBI. He wasn't home, but the agents did what agents do: they proceeded to tell the 14 year old son what they wanted including details of the case and that they wanted to talk to the Dad. Why else would the FBI use these tactics except to intimate the family and scare them? The only appropriate action would have been to have left a card or find out what time the parents would be home. This was BEFORE the new guidelines. Imagine what they will feel empowered to do after.
The FBI has a history of inappropriate spying, including taping of Martin Luther King. This spying included bugging of his hotel room, releasing excerpts to journalists (who refused to take the bait) and sending an embarrassing personal tape to Dr. King's home. There is evidence of spying on anti-war groups and even in the 1970s of gay rights groups. Now there is evidence of a resumption of FBI spying on domestic political dissidents who are without violent proclivities. It's a slippery slope.
The Republican Party has tried to get the American people to think they are the party of public safety. Moreover, they also claim the Democrats do not have the same security concerns as they do. (Funny, I don't remember the 9/11 terrorists asking whether the twin towers were Republican or Democrat.) But Republicans have been largely successful in their mission, although the polls are showing some evidence that they do not own the issue – perhaps average Americans are wising up to the fact that civil rights are nonpartisan.
Had this been right after 9/11, the FBI might have gotten a pass from many citizens. But it's been seven years, and the big question is why now? Why during the waning days of the Bush administration? Why not wait for a new president for this type of policy? My guess is that President Bush wants to finalize his theft of Americans' rights just once more before he leaves. Maybe he wants to spare McCain the dirty work if he should get elected. Let's just hope the Democrats have some guts and stand up to this wholesale theft of our rights. Let's hope some 527 organizations run an add showing the American people what is really happening to our cherished Constitution.