Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Return of TIPS

Time to dust off that eternal vigilance. From USA Today:

Feds try to detect 'lone offenders'

Federal authorities have launched an effort to detect lone attackers who may be contemplating politically charged assaults similar to the recent murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a Holocaust museum security guard. [Oddly, the Virginia Tech and Pittsburg massacres, which killed far more people, don't make the list. - Φ]

The effort, known as the "Lone Wolf Initiative," was started shortly after President Obama's inauguration, in part because of a rising level of hate speech and surging gun sales.

"Finding those who might plan and act alone, the so-called lone offenders ... will only be prevented by good intelligence, the seamless exchange of information among law enforcement at every level, and vigilant citizens reporting suspicious activity," said Michael Heimbach, the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism.

Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley said the FBI is sharing information with his agency.

. . .

ACLU policy spokesman Michael German, a former FBI agent, said the government effort resembles a form of "predictive policing" that can sometimes result in the improper profiling of people based on race, ethnicity or political leanings.

Yet former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff said the lone attacker has been a "persistent problem," primarily because information about those plots is very closely held.

. . .

Hate groups have multiplied across the USA, from 602 in 2000 to 926 in 2008, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups and works to limit their activities. Mark Potok, director of the center's Intelligence Project, said the lone attacker is an extension of the "leaderless resistance" concept of activism advocated by white supremacist Louis Beam.

". . . vigilant citizens reporting suspicious activity." Now where does that sound familiar? I can't quite place it . . . .

Oh, yeah. The Terrorism Information and Prevention System.

Here is how USA Today reported on that program back in 2002:

New 'watch' program poses troubling privacy issues

Enlisting the public to help fight the war on terror makes a certain amount of sense. Just as ordinary Americans thwarted a shoe bomber on a Paris-to-Miami flight last December, truck drivers can — and already do — spot and report suspicious activity along routes they frequent.

But the Justice Department's Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) goes beyond encouraging the public to report questionable behavior. By enlisting a handpicked group of workers, some with access to private information, the program threatens Americans' privacy rights.

That fear has been expressed across the political spectrum. The American Civil Liberties Union, the National League of Cities and House Republican leader Dick Armey have all denounced the government's plan to ask workers, such as mail carriers and UPS truck drivers, to collect and report suspicious events that could be recorded in a national database, possibly for years.

Though details about TIPS' operation are still being developed, Justice officials say that volunteers will limit their observations to "public" places; homes are off limit.

But before the government launches an army of informants, it needs to answer troubling questions . . . .

In fact, Congress was sufficiently dissatisfied with the answers to those "troubling questions" that it specifically prohibited TIPS in the 2002 Homeland Security Act.

Here are some "troubling questions" of my own:

  • Does anyone detect a difference in the tone of USA Today's coverage of these two initiatives?

  • Does anyone get the impression that the ACLU is just going through the motions this time around?

  • Does anyone expect Congress to prohibit the Obama initiative?

The world wonders.

I've long said that American citizens should enjoy "privileges and immunities" (like, for instance, guns and "hate speech", whatever that is) that aliens should not. But I'm consistently overruled on this: our elites have decreed that we must grant aliens the same rights as citizens.

But maybe I was right after all. Aliens don't seem to have the same rights as citizens.

They have more.

This bait-and-switch reminds me how we were told for years that in order to preserve our freedom of political speech, we mustn't restrict porn. And then came "campaign finance reform" that regulates political speech more than porn.


PeterW said...

On the USA Today coverage issue, I notice that the second article is an op-ed while the first was a news article. I have no doubt that the ACLU is just going through the motions, however.

Burke said...

I noticed that too; unfortunately, I couldn't dig up any news (or "news") articles on the USA Today website about the old TIPS for a proper comparison.

Check out the allegedly non-partisan American Library Association's reactions to TIPS compared to their reactions to the Obama program. I mean, I couldn't actually find any reactions, but I'm sure there must be some . . . .