Fortress America

Since 9-11-01, readers have contacted Cannabis Culture to tell us the US has become a fortress nation, seeking to wall itself off from the world and oppress its own citizens and those of other nations.
The concept of America as a fortress is bolstered by reality. US officials order foreign governments and airlines to put armed guards in airports and on airplanes. They tell airlines and governments to cancel specific flights. They hold flights on runways while interrogation crews question passengers without respect for due process, without probable cause, without attorneys present, for hours.

Such abuses are routine in today’s air transport systems. Also routine are luggage searches, body searches, detentions, and the threat of being arrested if you so much as “raise your voice” to a US Transportation Security Agency (TSA) official.

US travelers must leave luggage unlocked when checking it in; this policy has resulted in thousands of cases of thefts from luggage under TSA control.

The US recently implemented its Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). The system takes a traveler’s name, address, date of birth and telephone number, and feeds it into databases and police records. Then, CAPPS assigns a color code to all passengers based on TSA background checks. Some passengers will be prevented from flying; others will be forced to undergo searches and interrogations before they fly. Civil libertarians are protesting the CAPPS program.

“Experience has shown that trying to catch wrongdoers by investigating everyone is a poor way to stop them,” said Jay Stanley, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The marginal improvement in security brought by this vast, unwieldy, intrusive system will not be worth it.”

Boarded-up boarders

In today’s brave new travel world, buying an airline ticket or crossing an international border is tantamount to signing away civil liberties.

Steven S is an American who tried to cross the Canadian-US border. He drove to the border, but Canadian officials told him he could not enter Canada because he had a marijuana misdemeanor. He argued that he had only been arrested for marijuana, not convicted ? the charges had been thrown out. Canadian officials permanently banned him from Canada.

When he turned around and drove back through the US border crossing, he was yanked out of his vehicle by a Homeland Security agent, who said his behavior (turning around to head south after being denied entry into Canada), was indicative of terrorist activities.

“The Homeland Security guy wouldn’t give us his name, but he wanted to look up our asses,” Steve said in an interview with Cannabis Culture. “They stole my computer from me and copied everything on it. The questions they asked indicated they have the capability to track people in the US. We were held prisoner for most of the day. Then they told Canada to ban us permanently from entering Canada. It was terrifying.”

The US instituted a spy program called US-VISIT that requires visitors from most countries to be fingerprinted and photographed when entering and leaving the US at land, air and seaports. The $700 million system does instant background checks using international commercial and governmental databases. Photographs and fingerprints are stored and shared with domestic and international law enforcement agents.

The government plans to include “biometric” identification techniques in US-VISIT; such techniques involve iris scans, DNA fingerprinting, and other intrusive tactics. The Pentagon is creating surveillance programs that monitor virtually every aspect of Americans’ lives. One program would use a radar-like device that identifies people based on the way they walk. The device would use “biometric” data analysis to identify people from 500 feet away.

A spokesman for a biometrics company said surveillance and tracking is becoming a huge industry.

“The biggest problem we’ve had as a company is that police departments lack funding,” the executive explained. “But now, with Department of Homeland Security spending, local police are getting bigger budgets for these sorts of things and we have seen our revenue increase accordingly.”

Famed Italian philosopher and Holocaust scholar Giorgio Agamben decided not to accept teaching assignments at New York University and UCLA because the US wants to photograph and fingerprint foreign visitors.

Agamben told the press that the US resembles a “concentration camp.” He says US-VISIT is similar to the system that branded and tattooed Jews in Nazi Germany.

Another monitoring and tracking system, this one operated by the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is officially abbreviated as “TIA.” The acronym used to mean Total Information Awareness; it now means “Terrorism” Information Awareness. The name change was one of many cosmetic and budgetary alterations made to the program after it was widely criticized by conservatives, liberals and the media after it started in 2002.

TIA links police and spy agencies with massive worldwide computers and databases. It is part of a Pentagon-CIA-FBI net that uses “data mining” to track individuals around the world. Data mining consists of gathering and storing massive amounts of private and public information, analyzing information, and categorizing millions of people as possible terrorists.

US officials say such systems are designed to catch “terrorists,” but in the first months of operation, the program did not catch terrorists ? it caught people wanted for drug crimes and immigration violations. Critics of the program also question the definition of “terrorist,” noting that US Attorney General John Ashcroft designates radical environmentalists, civil libertarians, anti-war protesters, pot advocates, and other non-violent Americans as terrorists. A Bush administration official recently characterized the National Education Association ? a teachers’ labor union ? as a terrorist group!

The use of databases to collect information is increasing worldwide. Canada tried to implement a program that would have monitored where people traveled, what meals they ate on the airplane, and who they traveled with.

Congress allegedly de-funded TIA last year, but the program was not actually ended. Instead, it was folded into another data mining program, the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (MATRIX), run by a private company but funded by government money.

MATRIX seeks to mine and combine all kinds of data: criminal histories, driver’s licenses and photographs, vehicle registrations, public records, credit histories, marriage and divorce records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and names and addresses of family members, neighbors and business associates. Other information will also be surveilled, including purchasing habits, magazine subscriptions, income, and job histories.

Despite queries from the media and the ACLU, the government and the private company running MATRIX have so far refused to provide complete details about the program’s scope, protocols and intent.

Fly low

The use of computerized databases, clandestine monitoring, and intrusive searches has combined with official fear-mongering, paranoia, and hysteria to make travel to and within the US quite unpleasant.

In past months, US officials have caused severe problems by issuing false alerts that caused airplanes to be grounded and innocent people to be harassed, frightened and humiliated.

Armed US military patrol boats have begun escorting ferries bound from British Columbia, Canada, to the US. The US has blackmailed Canadian ports, telling them to spend millions of dollars to meet US screening standards for outbound cargo, or risk having the US refuse to allow Canadian-origin ships to dock at US ports.

Transatlantic Air France flights have been grounded because the FBI told French officials that they had “factual proof” terrorists were on specific aircraft. In one case, the FBI provided a “factual” list of six passenger suspects who were alleged to be al Qaeda terrorists planning to hijack the plane.

The plane was impounded at gunpoint by US and French officials. Passengers were interrogated. The flight was delayed several hours, causing medical problems, stress, and other snafus. In the end, the entire incident turned out to be a ludicrous FBI mistake. The passenger accused of being the head of a Tunisian-based al Qaeda cell was a six-year-old child. Another “terrorist” turned out to be an elderly Chinese woman, and a third accused terrorist passenger was not a terrorist ? he was an insurance agent from Wales!

Passengers on a British Airways flight were held as prisoners for three days because US officials repeatedly demanded cancellation of their flight. When the plane was finally allowed to take off, it was intercepted by US military fighter planes and forced to land in a sequestered area at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia. The plane and passengers were held at gunpoint several more hours, during which time passengers and crew were questioned.

American officials have threatened to pull landing rights from airlines that do not place armed guards on. They’ve bullied the European Union into giving the US the passenger lists for most European flights. They’ve convinced foreign officials to seek out and interrogate people who missed flights.

Several weeks ago, US officials caused cancellation of a US-bound flight from Mexico City.

US Department of Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse claimed Mexican authorities cancelled the flight after being given information by US officials, but Mexican government spokesperson Agustin Gutierrez basically accused Roehrkasse of lying, saying the flight was canceled only after US authorities said they would refuse to allow it to land.

Gutierrez said Mexico was not given accurate or convincing information for the cancellation.

“The question is what threat?” Gutierrez said. “This question must be answered by Homeland Security. If we are going to have a good climate of cooperation, the least we can hope for are reasons.”

Before the flights were canceled or detained, US officials told the world they were positive terrorists would be found on the flights. None were found.

It appears that US claims that flights had terrorists on them had as little actual basis in fact as the pre-war claims that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction.”

American lockdown

While people traveling on airplanes are increasingly subject to the bellicose paranoia of US officials, conditions inside America are beginning to resemble the closed-society model seen in the Soviet Union 40 years ago.

Homeland Security officials are forcing major hotel chains to provide lists of hotel guests, especially in major cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The FBI got the information even though it had not obtained a search warrant. Under new Patriot Act regulations, FBI agents can compel disclosure of information without having to get a judge’s approval. The hotels gave FBI agents information including guests’ home addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers.

Police and military presence in American domestic life is increasing. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told New Year’s Eve revelers that thousands of uniformed and undercover cops would be surveilling celebrations. Military sharpshooters patrolled the NYC skyline in helicopters.

Partygoers who traveled on bridges, in tunnels, or on trains were subject to random, warrantless searches; before 9-11, such searches were considered unconstitutional.

During the 2003 Christmas season, the US government sent undercover nuclear scientists with sophisticated radiation detection equipment hidden in briefcases and golf bags to five major US cities. The scientists were allegedly searching for “dirty” bombs.

“Our guys can fit in in a sports stadium, a construction site or on Fifth Avenue,” a US Energy Department official said. “Their equipment is configured to look like anybody else’s luggage or briefcase.”

On December 29, 2003, the radiation cops found radiation at a rental storage facility near downtown Las Vegas. Dozens of FBI agents and other government spooks surrounded the storage facility until the renter of the “closet” where the radiation was detected came to open the door. The renter was a homeless man who found a small pellet of radium in a stainless steel container several years ago, and had put it in his locker. Authorities did not charge him with terrorism.

Spectators at major sporting events are also being subjected to random searches. Inside sports stadiums and on the Las Vegas strip, undercover police and armed, uniformed officers were present in large numbers, and military fighter planes patrolled the skies over Las Vegas and other major cities.

Domestic surveillance is not always so visible, however. The FBI used anti-terrorism laws to force General Motors’ “OnStar” vehicle emergency monitoring system to give the FBI access to a feature of the system that allows remote eavesdropping on conversations in cars equipped with OnStar.

The FBI apparently doesn’t care that its use of OnStar as a secret monitoring device carries with it a hidden penalty for unsuspecting drivers ? the FBI’s clandestine use of the system disables the emergency features that make OnStar useful for car owners!

Shut up

US police have become increasingly emboldened in the post-911 era. When peaceful protesters gathered in Miami late last year to speak out against NAFTA at the Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) summit, they were met by a “paramilitary response” led by Miami Police Chief John Timoney.

When he was Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner, Timoney and his officers brutalized protesters at the 2000 Republican National Convention. This year, Timoney and the Miami police were funded by $8 million that was part of the federal government’s $87 billion Iraq war budget.

Journalists, judges, and other neutral observers report that Miami police committed numerous felonies during the FTAA protests. They infiltrated anti-war and anti-FTAA groups, planting provocateurs who spied on the groups and who tried to incite group members to commit illegal acts. Dressed like robocops, police gassed, shot, grenaded and beat protesters. They used military helicopters, tanks, weaponry and armored personnel carriers. They arrested people and detained them for as long as 24 hours, handcuffed, without food or water, in conditions that some described as torture. They strip-searched women in front of leering male police officers. They charged many protesters with felonies, and refused to let them post bail or talk to attorneys.

Police behavior was so bad that Florida’s AFL-CIO union president Cynthia Hall described the city as “the police state of Miami.”

Department of injustice

While police are beating protesters in Miami, the federal Justice Department is showing how far it will go to invade citizen’s privacy.

Earlier this year, the Department demanded that hospitals turn over women’s private medical records. Department lawyers are targeting women who have had abortions; the action is part of a new law that bans some types of abortions, regardless of medical necessity.

Hospital administrators, patients and doctors say the Justice Department’s queries violate privacy rights, but federal judges have threatened to have doctors, hospital officials and patients arrested if records are not turned over to the Department.

The Justice Department has also targeted anti-war protesters. It subpoenaed Iowa’s Drake University, trying to force the institution to reveal who organized and attended a National Lawyers Guild peace forum and rally at the university. Even though the rally was peaceful, 12 participants were arrested; four anti-war protesters who attended the forum were later subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury. The Justice Department subpoenas were delivered by a sheriff working for the FBI Terrorism Task Force.

These subpoenas sought information about the meeting’s agenda and purpose, the identities of attendees and Guild officers, and videotapes made by campus security. The subpoenaed individuals include the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, the former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, and an anti-war activist who visited Iraq in 2002. The Justice Department ordered Drake University officials not to talk to anyone about the subpoenas.

When Iowa Senator Tom Harkin heard about the subpoenas he said, “I don’t like the smell of it… It reminds me too much of Vietnam when war protesters were rounded up, when grand juries were convened to investigate people who were protesting the war.”

Amid a growing scandal and a firestorm of protests about the subpoenas, the government quietly withdrew them on the morning that the four activists were scheduled to testify to the grand jury.

Two wars at once

Soon after 9-11, the Bush administration began a public campaign to link terrorism with domestic drug use and the international drug trade. The White House paid for terrorism-drug use television commercials that showed a person buying a joint in the US ? the money paid to the joint dealer ended up in al Qaeda’s coffers.

Bush and other administration officials have repeatedly claimed that Americans who consume illegal drugs, especially marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, are funding “narcoterrorists” who use drug profits to fund terrorism and insurgencies.

“If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terrorism,” Bush claims. “It’s important for Americans to know that trafficking of drugs finances the world of terror, sustaining terrorists.”

The US funds wars in Colombia, Peru and other countries. In the last two years, the US paid $2 billion for Colombian government programs that target FARC anti-government forces, peasants and coca plants. The US says FARC funds itself via the cocaine business. The Colombian government uses America’s anti-drug money to fight FARC, a group that the US and Colombia brands as terrorists. Similar situations exist in Peru, Bolivia, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

The US claims al Qaeda and the Taliban are financing worldwide terrorist networks by participating in Afghanistan’s poppy and marijuana industries. The Pentagon has added “counternarcotics” to its list of activities in Afghanistan. US military personnel, intelligence and equipment are used there to destroy poppy and pot fields, processing labs, to spread propaganda, and interrupt smuggling routes.

Republican Congressman Mark Kirk came back from a “fact-finding” mission in the Middle East to report that Osama bin Laden is no longer a terrorist. According to Kirk, he is now a “narcoterrorist” who finances his operations by selling heroin and hashish.

Since late 2003, US naval forces operating in the Persian Gulf say they’ve seized several ships carrying a total value of $12 million in Afghani hashish and heroin. Military officials claim that the ships were operated by members of al Qaeda.

The US has used the specter of terrorism to increase its militarization of the US-Canadian border. So far, US officials have not claimed that tightening border controls has ensnared terrorists, but they have bragged that the controls have ensnared ever-increasing numbers of drug traffickers and drugs. US Customs seized 48,087 pounds of Canadian marijuana in 2003, compared to only 26,435 pounds seized the year before. US officials say the increase in seizures is due to security measures put in place to further the war on terror. Similar stats are reported concerning marijuana seizures on the US-Mexico border.

The US ambassador to Canada has threatened Canadians, saying that if Canada liberalizes its marijuana laws, the US will use terror war border protocols to harass young Canadians entering America. Bush administration officials say countries that export illegal drugs to the US are guilty of terrorism, because drugs destroy the lives of Americans.

In a recent report on international narcotics control efforts, the US strongly criticized Canada, and threatened to formally request that the United Nations designate Canada as a rogue state in violation of international anti-narcotics treaties.

Inside the US, politicians are proposing draconian legislation that welds the war on drugs with the war on terror. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans and a Mormon zealot, has brought forward legislation called the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act (the Victory Act), which is designed to increase the government’s ability to surveil, prosecute and jail drug users and sellers under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The Victory Act equates drug use, production, and distribution with terrorism, and makes it easier for police to spy on people while tightening mandatory minimum sentences and forfeiture of judicial discretion in drug cases; the Act also increases punishments for people found guilty of selling drugs to people under age 21.

American gulag

Renowned author Douglas Valentine’s book The Phoenix Program (see CC #39, Return of the Phoenix), describes a multi-faceted surveillance and assassination program conducted by the CIA, military and civilians in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Today, Valentine says, the US government is running a world-wide Phoenix program that seeks to unite governments, databases, and surveillance in a seamless web that will one day track all who participate in modern society.

“They’re trying to set up a global system of surveillance,” Valentine told Cannabis Culture. “They want to know who you are, what you are doing, what you think, and where you go. The Patriot Act and these other so-called anti-terrorist programs are nothing more than an updated, expanded version of Phoenix.”

The drug war is an integral part of the new Phoenix program, Valentine says; it’s long been used to give police the power to violate the Bill of Rights and harass non-violent citizens. It’s also a political tool that uses drug testing to find out which public school students are subversives who refuse to obey marijuana laws, and an economic tool that creates profits for prisons, bail bondsmen, attorneys, urine testers, police and others who benefit from a constant supply of arrestable drug offenders.

Valentine says that the drug war and other Phoenix-like programs have not yet included as much pervasive violence as the Vietnam Phoenix program did, but the drug war is taking incremental casualties as 800,000 people are arrested every year in the US for marijuana. And in some cases, the drug war is literally murderous.

Last year, a Muscogee County, Georgia, sheriff killed a 39-year-old African-American named Kenneth Walker during a traffic stop.

The officer claimed Walker was traveling with drug dealers, but Walker was unarmed, no drugs or weapons were found in the car, and the sheriff’s department refuses to provide any information about the shooting.

Amidst the harassment, spying and violence of Fortress America, there are ludicrous semi-humorous events that show just how locked down and paranoid America has become.

Perhaps the most compelling example of this occurred when the FBI issued a nationwide alert to 18,000 police departments, asking cops to be on the lookout for “people carrying almanacs, because they may be terrorists assisting with target selection and pre-operational planning.”

Officers were advised to look for almanacs that appear to have been well-read.

“The practice of researching potential targets in almanacs is consistent with known methods of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations that seek to maximize the likelihood of operational success through careful planning,” the FBI alert claimed.

Kevin Seabrooke, senior editor of The World Almanac, reacted with derision when asked about the FBI alert.

“I don’t think anyone would consider us a harmful entity,” said Seabrooke.

The editor of an agricultural almanac said terrorists have little use for information about corn planting season and similar data, but agreed that marijuana growers might use almanacs to determine outdoor planting strategies.

Not amused, FBI spokespersons again urged police and citizens to report almanac-bearing people to the US Joint Terrorism Task Force.