Perhaps it is time to start offering a different narrative, one without Richard Perle’s moral clarity
The willingness of the American public to accept systematic invasions of privacy is a tribute to the selling of the narrative about the Global War on Terror as a rational response to an existential threat.
Leading neoconservative Richard Perle has said that one of the many reasons he admires the Israelis is the moral clarity that they exhibit on the issue of terrorism. What exactly that means is not itself clear, but it would appear to be a carte blanche for any and all Israeli punitive responses to groups that question Tel Aviv’s legitimacy. Perle has never criticized Israelis for disproportionality or for committing war crimes. He has only admonished them when, in his opinion, they have not gone far enough.
By that standard, the past 10 years have seen a major victory for Perle and for those who think like he does by delivering moral clarity to the people of the United States.
The Global War on Terror has undeniably simplified thinking about serious issues. As President George W. Bush put it, you are either with us or against us, which means that you either support legislation passed by Congress to catch bad guys or you are a terrorist sympathizer and should yourself be put in jail. That is the meaning of the laws criminalizing terrorist support, which stretch and transform the definition to such an extent that expressing a viewpoint favorable to a group that the United States government has defined as terrorist can land someone in court. Even providing medical assistance to someone in an area controlled by a terrorist group or advising a terrorist leader that he should stop killing people can result in criminal charges.
But even Americans who understand the serious consequences of the legislation that diminishes liberties don’t always appreciate the extent to which the change in the legal landscape driven by fear of terrorism has also led to a proliferation of mechanisms in the state security apparatus that are being used to diminish the freedoms of each and every American citizen. If the federal government wants to know more about you, it has all the tools readily available because information is being collected on citizens every day, while computer capacity and speed are now capable of storing and analyzing everything that comes in.
Few Americans are aware of the threat posed by the greatly increased law enforcement use of GPS to carry out searches that once would have been considered illegal without a court order. To cite one recent example, in October 2010 a mechanic servicing a car owned by a student in California discovered what appeared to be a transmitter, possibly connected to a GPS tracking device, attached by two magnets to the vehicle’s wheel well.
The student posted a picture of the device on the Internet to try to learn what exactly it was. Soon thereafter he was pulled over by two hostile federal agents wearing bulletproof vests who demanded the return of “government property.” The student, an Arab-American, had no criminal record, was born in the United States, and was not linked to any radical organizations. The GPS was attached to his vehicle without any search warrant and without any allegation that a crime either had been or was about to be committed.
Currently federal, state, or local law enforcement can attach a GPS unit to a vehicle in any “public space,” i.e., a parking lot or the street, without any judicial authority because, in their view, no one should have any expectation of privacy outside of his or her home. As a result, the use of geolocation systems by law enforcement is becoming increasingly common, largely because it is a resource multiplier. Instead of a surveillance team of four to six officers having to follow a suspect around, it is possible to attach a GPS unit to the suspect’s vehicle and monitor his movements through a computer back in the office. And, since it is so easy and cheap to do, the police are doing a lot of it, including in many cases for obvious fishing expeditions where a surveillance would not normally be authorized because of lack of any probable cause.
Michael Lloyd/The Oregonian Sen. Ron Wyden is demanding answers from spy agencies on their legal justification for domestic surveillance.