Thursday, October 29, 2009

Said The Spider To The Fly

Sometimes paranoia is justified. Sometimes there really are people spying on your every move, and sometimes those spies are from your own government. That's the message I got from this NY Times article, based on an FBI manual ordered released under a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by, among others, Somali American groups.

The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.” The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era.

One section lays out a low threshold to start investigating a person or group as a potential security threat. Another allows agents to use ethnicity or religion as a factor — as long as it is not the only one — when selecting subjects for scrutiny.

...Valerie Caproni, the F.B.I.’s general counsel, said the bureau has adequate safeguards to protect civil liberties as it looks for people who could pose a threat.
[Emphasis added]

Yeah, right. And I have some prime real estate in the Florida Everglades I can see you at just the right price.

“Those who say the F.B.I. should not collect information on a person or group unless there is a specific reason to suspect that the target is up to no good seriously miss the mark,” Ms. Caproni said. “The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen.”

The manual authorizes agents to open an “assessment” to “proactively” seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats.

Agents may begin such assessments against a target without a particular factual justification. The basis for such an inquiry “cannot be arbitrary or groundless speculation,” the manual says, but the standard is “difficult to define.”
[Emphasis added]

"There is no standard. We don't need no stinking standard. Just go get them."

Assessments permit agents to use potentially intrusive techniques, like sending confidential informants to infiltrate organizations and following and photographing targets in public. ...

If agents turn up something specific to suggest wrongdoing, they can begin a “preliminary” or “full” investigation and use additional techniques, like wiretapping. But even if agents find nothing, the personal information they collect during assessments can be retained in F.B.I. databases, the manual says.
[Emphasis added]

Because you never know when that information will come in handy. After all, "these people" must have done something wrong, and we'll find it sooner or later. But don't you worry about a thing: the FBI, the Justice Department, in fact the entire government has your well-being uppermost in mind, well, if you're a white Christian whose American lineage goes back seven generations.

[Ms. Caproni] also said that the F.B.I. takes seriously its duty to protect freedom while preventing terrorist attacks. “I don’t like to think of us as a spy agency because that makes me really nervous,” she said. “We don’t want to live in an environment where people in the United States think the government is spying on them. That’s an oppressive environment to live in and we don’t want to live that way.”

J. Edgar Hoover would be so proud.

Me? Eh, not so much.

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