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Feds get new spy powers in Homeland Security law
Big Brother is watching now

By Nicole Colson | December 6, 2002 | Page 2

THE BUSH gang's war on our civil liberties took a giant leap forward with the Homeland Security bill signed into law last week. The legislation, which Bush forced through Congress during a lame-duck session following the Republicans' November 5 election victory, is packed with unprecedented measures to help the government snoop on ordinary people.

The corporate media focused on some last-minute amendments to the bill that Democrats and even moderate Republicans objected to--but voted for anyway, after the White House "promised" to review them in January.

But the legislation's most Big Brother-like provisions went almost unnoticed. For example, the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program will link commercial and government databases to give the Feds unprecedented access to financial and other information about people in the U.S.

Even right-wing ideologue William Safire had to object. "Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend--all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as 'a virtual, centralized grand database,'" Safire wrote in his New York Times column.

As Katie Corrigan of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) put it, TIA is potentially the most intrusive domestic spying network in American history. "It's a radical departure from the principle that police can conduct surveillance only when there is evidence of wrongdoing," Corrigan said.

Then there's the man that the Bush administration has chosen to head up the project: former Reagan administration hack John Poindexter. Poindexter was convicted in 1990 on five counts of misleading Congress and making false statements during the investigation of the Iran-contra scandal that shook the Reagan White House in the 1980s.

As National Security Adviser, Poindexter was taking the fall for the White House's scheme to sell arms to Iran--and use the proceeds to fund the contra army fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The TIA database is just one of numerous frightening provisions in the Homeland Security legislation. For example, under the new law, any information voluntarily submitted to the new Department of Homeland Security about terrorist threats to the nation's infrastructure will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act--essentially eliminating the department's responsibility to answer public questions about its functioning.

Employees of the new department can be stripped of protections under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. The legislation also makes it easier for authorities to force Internet service providers to allow them to monitor e-mail. And the Bush gang is chipping away at restrictions on domestic spying--with the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security intelligence unit of its own.

"If you like the idea of a government agency that is 100 percent secret and 0 percent accountable," said Timothy Edgar of the ACLU, "you'll love the new Homeland Security Department."

Tearing up rules on wiretaps

JOHN ASHCROFT got an early Christmas present: even greater power to spy on U.S. citizens.

Last May, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court--a secret court that grants wiretap authority to the government--made public a unanimous decision rejecting the government's bid for expanded spying powers. In its first-ever announcement of a ruling, the FISA court rejected guidelines proposed by Ashcroft under the USA PATRIOT Act and accused the FBI of misleading it in 75 cases.

But last month, a special three-judge appeals panel called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review issued its very first public ruling ever--reversing the FISA court's decision. This means that the Justice Department will now be able to obtain wiretap warrants more easily and pass on information it gathers to criminal prosecutors.

But the Court of Review went even further, declaring that government lawyers have been "misinterpreting" secret wiretap laws since the 1980s to be stricter than they actually are.

After the ruling, Ashcroft immediately announced new actions to intensify government spying, including the designation of special intelligence prosecutors in every federal court district and the creation of a new FBI unit to seek intelligence warrants.

As Joshua Dratel, of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, put it, "Having found out that the fox has eaten half the chickens, the court has decided the fox should have more authority over the chicken coop with virtually no oversight."

We know all that you can be

GEORGE W. BUSH was beaming with pride earlier this year as he signed into law federal education legislation called the No Child Left Behind Act. But a better title for it would have been "No Child Left Behind--From Military Service."

It turns out than an overlooked provision in the law requires high schools to provide names, addresses and phone numbers of students to military recruiters. Any school that refuses to turn over the names will face losing federal education funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law also requires high schools to allow military recruiters the same campus access as administrators give to colleges and job recruiters.

The Pentagon has been trying for years to insert the recruitment provisions into education legislation to counter a "lack of cooperation" from some high schools. Some schools, including those in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., have refused to allow military recruiters onto campuses--on the grounds that the Pentagon discriminates against gays and lesbians.

But this year, the education bill was so loaded up with provisions for school vouchers and increased testing standards that the military recruitment provisions slipped through.

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