Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Agribiz, Biotech & War
Charles k. Fink
The Attack of the Wealthy â€¦
Law & Order
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
In early March, consumate pitchman and former Johnny Carson sidekick, Ed McMahon introduced Attorney General John Ashcroft to an enthusiastic audience of representatives from more than 300 Neighborhood Watch groups gathered in Washington, DC. The attorney general was there to unveil a new mission for the National Sheriffs Associations National Neighborhood Watch program. He announced a grant of $1.9 million in federal funds to help the NSA double the number of participant groups to 15,000 nationwide. He also revealed its integration into President Bushs new USA Freedom Corps initiative.
While President Bushs USA Freedom Corps initiative builds on the community service traditions of Americorps, the Peace Corps, and the Neighborhood Watch programs, it also calls for workers and neighbors to enlist as citizen spies on the home front. Through the Neighborhood Watch program, we will weave a seamless web of prevention of terrorism that brings together citizens and law enforcement, Ash- croft said.
To boost participation in the program, a Justice Department press release announced that the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) had unveiled a Public Service Announcement (PSA) called United for a Stronger America. In partnership with the Department of Justice, the Crime Prevention Coalition of America, and the Advertising Council, the ad campaign is aimed at encouraging local communities to initiate more Neighborhood Watch programs.
The PSA campaign also suggests citizens call and order a 24-page Citizens Preparedness Guidebook, which contains tips on emergency preparedness at home, at work, when out and about, and in the community; ideas on developing an evacuation plan; tips on reporting emergencies or suspicious activities; information on traveling safely at home and abroad; ideas about voluntary civic activities that can strengthen communities; and a list of resources, including phone and fax numbers and websites (the Guidebook can be downloaded at www.citizencorps.gov/guidebook).
For years, National Neighborhood Watch (NNW) has been a community-based program bringing local residents together with law enforcement officials to discuss and mobilize to prevent neighborhood crime. According to the Washington Post, NNWs nearly 50 million participants across the United States have made it the largest in a patchwork of programs that enlist residents to help police fight local crime.
In 1972, the NSA received its first funding from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. What had been a fairly low-key, but vigilant, crime prevention tool focusing on neighborhood break-ins and burglaries, was now earmarked for a broader rolesurveillance in the service of the war on terrorism.
The proposed expansion and increased funding for the project raised a red flag for civil liberties groups. According to a March 8 press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): Ashcrofts plan extends the neighborhood watches to include terrorism prevention, a move critics fear could fuel Cold War-style discrimination and censorship.
The attorney generals initiative should be good news for the Santa Fe Springs, California-based National Neighborhood Watch Institute (NNWI). The organization boasts that its complete line of crime prevention materials is used by more than 1,500 police and sheriff agencies, local Neighborhood Watch groups, homeowner associations, and individuals involved in crime prevention activities across the country. Despite the seriousness of its mission, it has been a folksy operation, handing out signs, window warning decals, and labels.
Shortly after September 11, the Institute began offering Homeland Security Street Signs, which notify the community and criminals that all suspicious persons and activities are immediately reported to local police officials. Bill Preciado, the manager of the Institute said they came up with the idea for Homeland Security signs before the Office of Homeland Security had been established. They are in the process of putting together a handbook advising people how to identify terrorist activity in their neighborhoods, he added.
In his State of the Union address, the president announced his new service initiativethe USA Freedom Corpsand called on all Americans to volunteer the equivalent of 2 years, or 4,000 hours, over a lifetime. According to a USA Freedom Corps handbook, the president is requesting more than $560 million in new funds in Fiscal Year 2003 to support the new initiative.
According to a White House press release, one avenue for volunteering is the Citizens Corps (CC), which will engage citizens directly in improving homeland security.
The Citizen Corps, coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will create community-based Citizen Corps councils charged with developing community action plans, assessing possible threats, identifying local resources and coordinating other Citizen Corps programs. These councils will consist of law enforcement leaders, fire and emergency medical services personnel, and citizens from business (especially security firms), schools, places of worship, health care facilities, public works, and other key community sectors.
The White House release said that the president would request $144 million in matching funds to support the formation and training of local Citizen Corps Councils. CC volunteers will be able to participate in a variety of programs that match their skills and abilities.
In addition to reinvigorated Neighborhood Watch Programs, a Volunteers in Police Service Program, Medical Reserve Corps, and Community Emergency Response Teams, the Citizens Corps calls for setting up Operation TIPS, the Terrorist Information and Prevention System.
Operation TIPS, which comes under the auspices of the Justice Department, intends to train one million workers who in the course of their daily activities will act as tipsters on the lookout for suspicious and potentially terrorist related activity. The Administration has requested $8 million for TIPS.
In March, a Justice Department spokesperson told me that Operation TIPS is a pilot project developed by a working group made up of people from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and several other agencies. When asked about the identity of members of the working group, she said she was unable to disclose their names at this time. She said that since the project was still evolving, it was too soon to speak to the people involved.
Although the industries, or sectors of workers, have not yet been selected, the DOJ spokesperson stated that the project may involve truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, and utility employeesworkers who in the course of their daily activities are well-situated to be extra eyes and ears in the struggle against terrorism. When asked if unions were aware of or involved in developing the project, she said that to the best of her knowledge they werent. She didnt rule out their participation somewhere down the line.
So why are unions being kept in the dark? David Bacon, labor reporter and photojournalist, believes there are several reasons. For the most part, he said, the administration doesnt think unions are all that relevant, therefore they might as well go directly to the workers. The Administration might also be concerned about stirring up a hornets nest, since many unions are concerned about civil liberties, he added.
In the course of researching this story, I found that the program was shrouded in secrecy. The initial responses from spokespeople at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters Union in Washington, DC, the press office of the ACLU in New York City, and the Washington offices of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee were the sameno one had heard of Operation TIPS.
After Rob Black, spokesperson for the Teamsters, had a chance to look into Operation TIPS, he told me that the unions legislative staff is going over the TIPS proposal to see how it would effect our members.
At the Washington, DC offices of the National Association of Letter Carriers, the head of public relations, Drew VonBergen, indicated he had heard of Operation TIPS but was not aware that any formal notification had been given to the union. He had nothing further to say about TIPS right now, he added.
According to the TIPS website, Every participant will be given an Operation TIPS information sticker to be affixed to the cab of their vehicle or placed in some other public location so that the toll-free reporting number is readily available. Everywhere in America, a concerned worker can call a toll-free number and be connected directly to a hotline routing calls to the proper law enforcement agency (see www. citizencorps.gov/tips).
Participants in the program are being encouraged to create a record of servicea private journal of each individuals volunteer time and experiencesat the Citizens Corps website.
What constitutes suspicious terrorist activity nearly one year after September 11? With a permanent war on terrorism, its anybodys guess.
A number of right-wing think tanks, including the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) to the Heritage Foundation, have developed a homeland security project.
In late-November 2001, CSIS published To Prevail: An American Strategy for the Campaign Against Terrorism. Kurt M. Campbell and Michele A. Flournoy, the principal authors of To Prevail, suggest the president should create a task force to explore the creation of a Homeland Security Service Corps for young and old Americans alike, who are prepared to give two years to help serve and protect the nation. Volunteers would be trained to serve in a variety of fields, including the Public Health Service, Airport Security, and the National Guard and Reserve.
At an early-January 2002 news conference the two chairpeople of the Heritage Foundations Homeland Security Task Force, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and Reagan administration counter-terrorism Chief L. Paul Bremer unveiled its report, Defending the American Homeland.
The Heritage Foundation report recommends, Local police departments should include citizens assessments of local threats and vulnerabilities through the Police-Citizen Interaction Committee (PCIC) mechanisma formal platform for regular precinct-level meetings with citizens to discuss problems and solutions of interest to the community. Implementing community policing tactics, like PCICs, should not require federal funding.
While it acknowledges the importance of individuals volunteering, the report is primarily concerned with unleash[ing] market forces to mobilize the private sector to promote infrastructure security, and the need for building a stronger private sector/government partnership.
In an op-ed piece in support of the Task Forces recommendations, posted at the foundations website in late-January, Meese and Kim Holmes, director of the foundations Homeland Security Project, argued that in order to defend the nation properly we must downgrade functions of government not related to defenseparticularly those that havent proven effective.
In keeping with the promotion of Heritages missionprivatization, de-regulation, and smaller governmentthe Task Force maintains many government initiatives, such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), antitrust legislation, liability concerns, and current tax policies, inhibit the development of a true partnership for security between the private sector and the government.
Due to the possibility of chemical and biological attacks, the Heritage Task Force recommends the creation of a national surveillance system built from the ground up. Local surveillance networks that collect information on, for example, the number of hospital admissions, school absences, and state employee absences each day should provide these data regularly to the states, and the states should then compile this information and make regular reports to the federal government.
Spotting suspicious activity could easily turn into racial profilingwatching out for Middle Eastern-looking men visiting a neighborhoodor reporting someone posting flyers announcing an upcoming demonstration or anti-war rally. Perhaps reporting on suspicious mail that certain postal customers are receiving. If Attorney General Ashcroft stands behind what he told Congressthat dissent and questioning the war on terrorism supports the terroriststhen suspicious activity might include whatever your neighbors believe constitutes opposition to the presidents permanent war on terrorism. In some towns in America, not hanging out the flag might be construed as suspicious activity. Z
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements/politics. Research assistance by Laura Ross.