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Hullabaloo


Monday, September 27, 2010

 
Mission Creeps

by digby


Glenzilla talks about the latest domestic spying government power grab and offers this observation:

What these Obama proposals illustrates is just how far we've descended in the security/liberty debate, where only the former consideration has value, while the latter has none. Whereas it was once axiomatic that the Government should not spy on citizens who have done nothing wrong, that belief is now relegated to the civil libertarian fringes.


He's right, of course, but I think we tend to lose sight of another problem in allowing the government to have unfettered power to go on fishing expeditions in citizens' private business. The fact that it's ineffective against terrorism is problematic enough and monitoring everyone's financial transactions with overseas banks in this age of globalization is somewhat terrifying. But it's the inevitable mission creep that's really chilling.

Check this out:


Kathy Parker, a 43-year-old Elkton, Md., woman, who was flying out of Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 8.

She says she was heading to Charlotte, N.C., for work that Sunday night - she's a business support manager for a large bank - and was selected for a more in-depth search after she passed through the metal detectors at Gate B around 5:15 p.m.

A female Transportation Security Administration officer wanded her and patted her down, she says. Then she was walked over to where other TSA officers were searching her bags.

"Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. A TSA officer said, 'Hey, I've always been curious about these. Do they work?'

"I was just so taken aback, I said, 'Yeah.' "

What happened next, she says, was more than embarrassing. It was infuriating.

That same screener started emptying her wallet. "He was taking out the receipts and looking at them," she said.

"I understand that TSA is tasked with strengthening national security but [it] surely does not need to know what I purchased at Kohl's or Wal-Mart," she wrote in her complaint, which she sent me last week.

She says she asked what he was looking for and he replied, "Razor blades." She wondered, "Wouldn't that have shown up on the metal detector?"

In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000.

Her thought: "Oh, my God, this is none of his business."

Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not.

"It's an indication you've embezzled these checks," she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn't before that moment, she says.

She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. "That's my money," she remembers saying. The officer's reply? "It's not your money."

At this point she told the officers that she had a good explanation for the checks, but questioned whether she had to tell them.

"The police officer said if you don't tell me, you can tell the D.A."

So she explained that she and her husband had been on vacation, that they'd accumulated some hefty checks, and that she was headed to her bank's headquarters, where she intended to deposit them.

She gave police her husband's cell-phone number - he was at her mother's with their children and missed their call.

Thirty minutes after the police became involved, they decided to let her collect her belongings and board her plane.

"I was shaking," she says. "I was almost in tears."

When she got home, her husband of 20 years, John Parker, a self-employed plastics broker, said the police had called and told him that they'd suspected "a divorce situation" and that Kathy Parker was trying to empty their bank account.


The job of the police is to find criminals and the bigger the police state, the more police looking for criminals there are. And the constitutional constraints against giving the government unrestrained power to nose into anyone and everyone's lives to find criminal behavior that isn't obvious has always been considered a hindrance to their jobs. (This is the old "if you haven't got anything to hide, then why should you care?" argument.)

They are clearly finding lots of creative ways to use the powers of the surveillance state to do just that:

What happened sounds like a violation of a TSA policy that went into effect Sept. 1, after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the agency on behalf of the former campaign treasurer of presidential candidate Ron Paul.

In that case, Steven Bierfeldt was detained after screeners at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport discovered he was carrying about $4,700 in cash. He challenged their request that he explain where his money came from.

The new TSA directive reads: "Screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security." If evidence of a crime is discovered, then TSA agents are instructed to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.

So just what evidence made them treat Kathy Parker like a criminal?

Lt. Frank Vanore, a Philadelphia police spokesman, said that TSA personnel had called his officers, who found the checks to be "almost sequential." They were "just checking to make sure there was nothing fraudulent," he said. "They were wondering what the story was. The officer got it cleared up."

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said the reason Parker was selected for in-depth screening was that her actions at the airport had aroused the suspicion of a behavior detection officer, and that she continued to act "as if she feared discovery."

"We need to ascertain whether fear of discovery is due to the fact a person is concealing a threatening item, be it a dangerous weapon or some kind of explosive," Davis said. "If the search is complete, and shows individuals not to be a threat to the aircraft or fellow passengers, they are free to go."

But why call police? Davis said, "Because her behavior escalated."



Essentially what they are saying is that at American airports if the government finds someone's behavior "suspicious" they have a right to detain them and search them for evidence of terrorism. If they don't find evidence of terrorism, but they still find the person "suspicious" they can then call in police, who will look for evidence of non-terrorist related crimes. What constitutes suspicious behavior? Only the "specialist" knows for sure. And if you demand to know why they are calling the police, that constitutes "escalating behavior" which gives them cause for further inquiry.

This is how the creeping police state slowly takes over. They use the excuse of national security to chip away at the constitutional constraints that prevent the government from abusing its authority. The citizens are in a constant state of paranoia, worried that what they know is innocent will "look" guilty and afraid of asserting their rights because the act of asserting them is considered evidence of something to hide. There are thousands and thousands of people in every aspect of American life now granted the authority to do this in the name of anti-terrorism.


* I should add that I don't honestly know how the evidence obtained in these searches is treated by the courts. I have to assume that once you have consented to the search, as we all do when we attempt to fly (or open a bank account) then it's admissible. But even if it isn't, it's hard to have faith that the police running fishing expeditions in your private business won't lead to mischief and trouble regardless. Besides, it's unAmerican.


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