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01/09/2004 Archived Entry: "Stupid "security" making us less safe"

DANGEROUS MISDIRECTION -- AGAIN AND AGAIN. UNSAFE ON EVERY SIDE. So now the superheroes of the TSA are saving us from terrorism by forbidding airline passengers to congregate outside of airplane restrooms on any flights coming into the U.S. An Australian airline spokesman described the edict as "silly and unenforceable."

"It's [a toilet] a very prime piece of real estate on an aircraft at certain times in the flight," he said. "It's obvious that whoever thought this up in the US authority hasn't travelled on a 14-hour flight to Australia."

Then (or actually, before) we have the well-known Christmas Eve security alert from the FBI, warning police everywhere to be on the lookout for the dreaded Almanac User. John Young of Cryptome has now put the confidential memo online, where we can see that it also covers that equally suspicious and deadly individual, The Map Consulter.

And (because the silliness does go on -- but also because I'm building up to a point, really I am) there's the case of the military mom who took her 10-year-old son to Staples to buy him some flight-simulator software -- only to get a visit from the police* because some clerk thought her request was suspicious. (Scroll down to second news item.)

What's most pertinent is the mother's reaction:

"By 8 p.m., a state trooper was at my house," [Julie Olearcek] said. "At first, it was a little unnerving because it was pouring rain and my husband had just left ... My son said he heard someone walking around outside and it startled him. We had put our Christmas tree in front of a sliding glass door and the trooper ended up tapping on the glass of that door and putting a flashlight in and it scared us."

But Olearcek said she doesn't believe the trooper was intentionally trying to frighten her family. Nor does she blame the clerk for erring on the side of caution. ...

"He[the trooper] was totally understanding, but protocol means he has to follow through," Olearcek said. "I immediately gave him my military ID and I had no problem giving it to him. At first I felt like, 'Wait a minute, this is America.' But we also have to understand it takes everybody to pay attention. At first I was a little frazzled with someone knocking on my window at 8:30 at night, but the bottom line is this is a civilian who has tried to do his best." ...

"Bottom line is we've all got to look out for each other, and I wasn't harmed," summed up Olearcek. "And what if it were the other way around? It's going to take everyone in each town to look after one another."

Wasn't harmed? But aside from the harm of living in a growing surveillance state (the Staples employee had been taught and encouraged to report "suspicious" customers, of course), what about the harm that comes from having law enforcers and FBI agents blowing all their time following up endless, spurious, on-the-face-of-it preposterous "leads"? (Remember the one from late last year where FBI agents paid a home visit on a guy just because he'd been spotted at a coffee shop reading a magazine article with a headline an observer didn't like?)

When they're chasing around after every tip from hysterics or malicious neighbors, or getting panicky over people reading almanacs or standing on desperately crossed legs in front of a restroom, by definition they aren't looking for real terrorists.

And then you get the even worse cases of mis-targeting, like that of our friend Hunter, arrested in Ohio. Yes, Hunter broke Ohio law. In a pretty damn minor way -- speeding and peacefully carrying concealed weapons. But when the Ohio state troopers decided to spend days and days of their time trying to make it look as if Hunter -- who lives in New Hampshire and wasn't even in the state during the shootings -- was their big sniper suspect ... they were diverting energy from the real investigation of the real sniper. And Ohio residents and visitors were less safe because cops decided to manufacture a villain.

A lot of the law-enforcement/TIA/CAPPS/FBI/no-fly-list/anti-terror overreactions we've seen lately are based on datamining and profiling (not only racial) -- both of which have some legitimate uses, but both of which have also become almost religious substitutes for real thinking, real investigating, real judging. Somebody's got the wrong name or made a large tranfer from savings to checking or has scruffy hair ... and pounce! Yes, possibly a real terrorist might leave some data trail of his crimes. And sometimes scruffy-looking people really are criminals. But if you begin with the data, or the profile, instead of with an actual, suspicious individual, you're inevitably going to end up with thousands of spurious "suspicious patterns" while your super bad guy (who's deliberately creating lessof a trail than Mr. or Ms. Innocent, and who's cleaned himself up all slick to look like a respectable businessman) goes about his merry plotting. Law enforcement capital-B Believes in these profiles and types and statistics because they're new and tech-whizzy ... and because they mean nobody has to think or work too hard. Just go after the one who fits the metric, rather than conduct a patient, intellligent investigation of the non-typical person who's really doing the deed.

Or, as in some of the examples here, just send an expensive cop or FBI agent or two out because your policy is to personally send someone out to investigate every "lead," rather than to ask the initial questions and use the personal judgments that would tell you that a regular store customer, buying software for a child, isn't a security threat. That a Norwegian tourist with a map of Niagra Falls, NY, isn't a hijacker. That a guy openly reading a magazine in Starbucks isn't in the midst of masterminding some devious conspiracy. Every minute they're investigating this stuff, they're not investigating real terrorists, robbers, rapists, or murderers.

So none of this misdirection is harmless.

I suppose you could look on the bright side and say that when the Keystone Krew is running around questioning 10-year-old boys about software purchases, or routing five-year-old girls from Air France flights as terror suspects, at least they're also not busting medical marijuana growers, tossing business people in jail for paperwork violations, or seizing the assets of grannies whose grandsons sell dope on their property without their knowledge. You could even say it's a good thing that more people are finally realizing government agents can be a bunch of inept fools who didn't protect them on 9-11 and can't protect them now. That's a Clue the American people very badly need to get.

But somehow, with so much Stalinist-Stasi style spying and prosecution for the sake of persecution it's not a lot of consolation.

We are not only more vulnerable to criminals because of this stuff. We're unsafe on every side: More vulnerable to criminals, and more vulnerable to our own "protectors" who are increasingly likely to investigate and persecute us as criminals.


* This is not a permanent link. Once the January 6 news has scrolled off the page, it's gone. For a more durable, but shorter, version of this incident, click here.

Posted by Claire @ 08:15 AM CST

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