The ACLU’s recent release of “Suspicious Activity Reports” from various California law enforcement agencies (working with DHS Fusion Centers) shows that the government has developed a strong culture of paranoia through its increasingly-broad anti-terrorism efforts. The catchphrase, “If you see something, say something,” has resulted in plenty of seeing and saying, but has failed to turn up much in the way of usable counter-terrorism intelligence.
Much in the way that intelligence agencies like gathering data “just in case,” the Fusion Centers are aided and abetted by law enforcement officials who are willing to add to the data piles by approaching anything “suspicious” (very broadly defined) as potentially terrorist-related. This state-approved paranoia has spilled over into the private sector as the documents detail several second-hand reports from concerned citizens.
In both cases (law enforcement and private individuals), much of the “suspicion” seems to be based solely on reported persons being (or appearing to be) Middle Eastern. This term shows up so often it’s often simply abbreviated as ME. For instance, page 21 has a report of some “suspicious” photography occurring on a Metrolink train, involving two people, one dressed in a “‘Middle Eastern’ costume.”
Speaking of photography, aiming a camera at any government building, power station, railroad track, bridge, dam, oil refinery, airport building or any other building that an observer feels should remain unphotographed is enough to get your description (at the very least) added to the FBI’s e-Guardian database. Even filming on-duty cops can raise the “suspicions” of law enforcement [p. 10].
After responding to a call of disturbance aboard an MTA bus, a male white and a female white in a black Dodge Charger (newer model) video taping deputy personnel. When Sgt [redacted] attempted to contact the couple. they fled the scene and could not be located. The reason for the couple video taping is unknown.
Photographers filming a manufacturing plant deemed suspicious until questioning discovered they were filming the pollution, not the plant [p. 28]. Five males “photographing a mannequin on a bus bench” — weird, but not dangerous [p. 50]. Man filming Highway 101, allegedly for a “Stop the Violence” video not cited or bothered further [p. 64], but like many others, had his case kicked up the ladder to the “JTTF” (Joint Terrorism Task Force). A citizen filming officers serving a warrant across the street from his/her house and is duly noted in the database [p. 167]. Throughout the 300 pages of reports, almost everything involving cameras, law enforcement (or concerned citizens) and structures is either added to the FBI’s database or handed over to the JTTF.
This is troubling, but it gets worse. A demonstration against law enforcement’s use of excessive force makes its way into the database [p. 165]. An “overly assertive” person complaining about security measures at the Shasta Dam (son had pocketknife confiscated) received his/her own entry into the e-Guardian database [p. 280].
An officer reports a traffic stop dealing with a person who was “unstable and possibly had a fetish about police that could easily turn to becoming antipolice” [p. 235]. This too results in a database entry.
Going beyond all of the mostly useless stuff lies the truly disturbing.
Student Found in Possession of Notebook Containing Radical Writings
On May 12, 2012, a Roseville Police Department officer working in the capacity of a School Resource Officer observed the partial quote “the blood of tyrants” on a woodshop project… [p. 171]
On 12 February 2012 at 0800, a UC Davis PD officer took a vandalism report at Emerson Hall Dorm, 1st floor men’s restroom of anti-government graffiti written in black marker on the wall signed by the moniker name of [redacted] with a circle around the “E.” [p. 191]
On 11/21/2011, an anonymous female called the CCIC to report possible illegal selling of controlled substance, Oxycotton [sic]. The caller is associated with the subject [redacted] attempting to sell oxycotton [sic] on his [redacted] page… [p. 202]
On 28 October 2011, Sacramento Police Department officers found two sets of anti-religious graffiti on a wall of the [redacted] The first set of graffiti, in black spray paint, was of 2 upside down crosses with a pentagram in the middle of [report ends]. [p. 206] (Halloween much?)
The ACLU points out, the system itself has been skewed towards collecting garbage for quite some time, thanks to the involved agencies’ own efforts to expand the scope of their mission.
So why are police submitting reports (sometimes received from community members, private security guards and via anonymous tips) about such innocuous conduct for inclusion in anti-terrorism databases? Because under the NSI and related programs,everyone – our neighbors, public employees, storekeepers – are encouraged to help. “If you see something, say something,” says the Department of Homeland Security. The “Functional Standard” for Suspicious Activity Reporting defines “suspicious activity” to include many activities that are not only lawful, but protected by the First Amendment. Even worse, the FBI encourages fusion centers not to limit themselves to the Functional Standard and instead to report “all potentially terrorism-related activity.” With such a broad and vague standard, no wonder we are seeing innocent activities reported as “suspicious,” especially when they involve community groups against whom we still see significant governmental bias.
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