Reports in Review

The Public Eye Magazine - Fall 2005
Report of the Month

Surveillance-Industrial Complex

“The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society,”
by Jay Stanley, American Civil Liberties Union, August 2004.

This summer, seven new state/federal “fusion centers” that aim to stream together and process “intelligence” generated by everyone from postal carriers and perhaps private data-mining businesses to FBI agents made headlines in a few places like Massachusetts and California [see Carol Rose and Chip Berlet, “Romney’s Spy Center,“ Boston Globe, June 14, 2005]. So it seems fitting to go back to the American Civil Liberties Union’s August 2004 report on “The Surveillance-Industrial Complex” to understand the broader apparatus through which the government created the data flowing into these high-tech spying centers.

The report documents the pro-surveillance lobby of companies pitching high-tech spying technology to a government obsessed with stopping crime before it starts. It also highlights how the government recruits both individuals and companies to collect data and report suspicious behavior through watch programs, open-market data purchases, etc., as well as how it is collecting, saving, and using the data. For instance, it reports on wholly new volunteer programs created post-9/11:

  • Police on the East Coast are embracing CAT Eyes — or Community Anti-Terrorism Training Institute — to train neighborhood watches.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is funding Highway Watch to encourage truck drivers to report suspicions to a central control center. Citizen preparedness campaigns are widespread, and, in New York, encourage residents to call a statewide tip line.
  • The FBI’s InfraGard built a network of 10,000 businesses (exactly which businesses is a secret) that may or may not be a network of tipsters.

While citizens are cryptically alerted to watch and report “suspicious activity” and report anyone who “does not seem to belong,” even more aggressive programs are being proposed to recruit everyone from mail carriers to utility employees—who have access to private residences—to act as de facto spies informing on any unusual sightings inside private homes.

At the same time that watch programs cultivate an atmosphere of distrust and racial profiling among individuals and communities, the government is recruiting companies to provide it with personal information on customers. It buys this information — collected by companies through routine purchases, supermarket loyalty cards, car rentals, banking, identification verification, routine background checks, and other transactions—and creates regulatory standards to make data easily accessible or simply requires or “encourages” its surrender. One of the biggest data companies, Choicepoint, says it sells data to 35 different government agencies including the FBI. The report explains that private companies are not restricted by the Privacy Act or subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The notorious Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act allows the FBI to demand information about individuals involuntarily from libraries, bookstores, and internet service providers without court oversight, while another section allow agents to use National Security Letters to secure information on individuals from financial and other institutions which was once allowed only to research those with ties to suspicious governments. Even Las Vegas hotels were deemed interesting, receiving National Security Letters from the FBI in December 2003.

While some companies are forced to release their data with secret orders, others are actually lobbying the government to purchase and install the use of surveillance technology which they developed. Moreover, the information collected from all these sources can be fused to create detailed profiles on the private lives of billions of citizens. Together the innovations create an atmosphere of eroding checks on government and corporations, unchallenged by courts that have not caught up to the Brave New World threatening people’s liberties.

Other Reports in Review

Who are the Domestic Terrorists?

Terror From the Right: Almost 60 Terrorist Plots Uncovered in the U.S.
by Andrew Bleiwas, Anthony Griggs and Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, July 2005.

The Southern Poverty Law Center gracefully turns Homeland Security logic on its head with this simple report compiling the 60 terrorist plots in the United States devised by white supremacists and the Far Right since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Although the Congressional Quarterly secured a draft listing from Homeland Security that marks animal rights and Earth Firsters as the nation’s gravest domestic terror threat, their property destruction is a far cry from the deaths sought by the white supremacists, the report notes.

Among the more recent plots listed:
  • David Wayne Hull, imperial wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and an adherent of the anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology, was charged in February 2003 with buying hand grenades with the aim of blowing up abortion clinics. The FBI says Hull also illegally taught followers how to build pipe bombs. He was convicted of weapons violations and sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.
  • Antigovernment extremist and tax resister David Roland Hinkson of Idaho was charged with trying twice to hire someone to murder a federal judge, a prosecutor, and an IRS agent involved in a tax case against him. Hinkson had refused to pay almost $1 million in taxes earned from his Water Oz dietary supplement company. He was convicted in 2004 on tax charges and in 2005 for the assassination plot as well.
  • In April 2004, neo-Nazi skinhead Sean Gillespie videotaped himself as he firebombed Temple B’nai Israel, an Oklahoma City synagogue, for a film aimed at inspiring other racists to violently pursue their cause. He was found guilty of the attack and faces a minimum 35- year sentence without parole.

Hijacked Day of Prayer

National Day of Prayer Task Force: Turning a Day of Faith into a Rally for the Christian Right
Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, 2005.

This report documents how the National Day of Prayer Task Force has turned this observance, established by Congress in 1952, into a battleground of the on-going religious culture war. The task force, housed in Focus on the Family and led by its leader’s wife, discourages any non-Christian groups from participating in its programs and disperses the ideology of the Christian Right to the mainstream public through its prayer day activities. The Prayer Day is observed nationally, since the Reagan Administration, on the first Thursday in May.

The report argues that the organization spreads the language of the religious Right into mainstream politics and government in part by asking people to pray against the “promotion of homosexuality,” the denial of God in public schools, and condom distribution. The Task Force organized more than 50,000 prayer events aimed at evangelical Christians. While the organization explicitly claims to be inclusive of Jewish tradition, in practice the researchers say this is false because it strictly adheres to the evangelical Lausanne Covenant, which champions the infallibility of both the Old and New Testaments.

The Task Force lobbies the government to draw upon its themes in celebration of each year’s National Day of Prayer. In 2005, the organization won endorsement from 26 state governments — half those recognizing the day — when they issued proclamations adopting the NDP Task Force’s theme, “God Shed His Grace on Thee.” The scale of its success in wooing state legislatures demonstrates the increasing popularity of this organization and its increasing involvement in the political sphere. Overall, the report argues that the NDP Task Force’s political motivations skew the original purpose of the National Day of Prayer, which was to unite all faiths, rather than to be sectarian, exclusive, and religiously and politically divisive.

Conservative Philanthropy, Take 2

Funding the Culture Wars: Philanthropy, Church, and State
By John Russell, National Committee Responsive Philanthropy, February 2005.

NCRP’s 2004 report, The Axis of Ideology: Conservative Foundations and Public Policy, made waves by documenting how 79 conservative foundations helped mainstream “radical” policy ideas, like huge tax cuts for the wealthy and privatizing Social Security, with large grants supporting the general operations of conservative organizations. It also found that conservative Christian organizations won 10% of the grants to fight access to abortion, promote school prayer, oppose gay marriage, and engage in other culture war causes.

In its 2005 report, “Funding the Culture Wars,” NCRP uses the same data, plus some new data on evangelically oriented private foundations, to zero in on support for Christian evangelical organizations promoting policy changes. This is challenging, since evangelicals come in all political shapes and sizes. But in the end, Russell tracked 37 foundations and 3,162 grants totaling $168 million. The average social service grant for work in the United States totaled $59,346, and the average grant for policy and advocacy totaled $48,541.

Focus on the Family, the Rev. James Dobson’s enterprise which opposes access to abortion and gay marriage, secured more than $5.5 million from 1999 to 2002 from 32 grantors. In the international realm, the report is particularly concerned with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which will distribute $180 million in grants for abstinence-only AIDS prevention programs in 2005, with several evangelical organizations eligible for the funding.

The report takes on the larger, more philosophical task of analyzing the challenges to the separation of Church and State posed by these grantees. But its difficulty in disentangling Right Wing from less advocacy oriented evangelical activity diminishes the usefulness of its analysis.

For instance, while Campus Crusade for Christ — which obtained $17,271,852 in grant money — champions the role of the male as protector, it does not promote political campaigns on the issue.

Perpetual Report

Bush’s Other War: The Assault on Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
International Women’s Health Coalition, June 2005.

The Coalition regularly updates an extensive online report that provides one-stop shopping from various sources on President George W. Bush’s domestic and international campaign against women’s reproductive rights, access to health care and abortion, and sex education: For example:

  • In March 2004, at a regional planning meeting of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States was the only one of 38 countries in the western hemisphere that opposed making a call for greater access to reproductive health services and HIV/AIDs prevention programs.
  • Poor women turn more and more to Medicaid for family planning services because of cuts to subsidized family planning programs. Because of its greater expense, this makes for bad health policy.
  • One of Bush’s nominees for a Federal court, James Leon Holmes, is former president of Arkansas Right to Life. The report offers one paragraph summaries of Holmes and other key judicial nominees.
  • The site also covers such topics as giving legal status to embryos, blocking funding for international programs, and manipulating science for political ends.

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