[Reader-list] Stratfor on civil liberties tensions in US following Sep 11

Rana Dasgupta rana_dasgupta at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 24 10:36:19 IST 2001


U.S. Measures May Incite Domestic Terror
2300 GMT, 010921


In the wake of terrorist attacks on New York and
Washington, the U.S. government is moving quickly to
create a new Cabinet-level agency for homeland defense
and ease restrictions on law enforcement agencies. But
while these measures may prove effective against
foreign attacks, they may also lead to increased
domestic terrorism.


In a televised State of the Union address Sept. 20,
U.S. President George W. Bush announced the creation
of a new Cabinet-level agency designed to "lead,
oversee and coordinate" a national strategy to guard
the United States against terrorism. Congress
meanwhile is considering new laws to ease restrictions
on wiretapping and eavesdropping. 

These new measures may be necessary components to
protect the United States from further attacks by
foreign terrorists. But they will also likely fuel the
fears and anger of domestic groups such as the
Michigan Militia or the North American Volunteer
Militia. In time, as the U.S. security apparatus looks
for threats coming from outside the country, the
United States may again face attacks from within.

More than 800 militia-style groups existed at the peak
of the anti-government movement in the mid-1990s,
according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The
number has decreased dramatically in the past five
years, thanks to a combination of a strong economy and
heavy pressure from law enforcement agencies in the
wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. The SPLC now
identifies only 194 "Patriot" groups that were active
in 2000. 

Generally Patriot groups define themselves as opposed
to the "New World Order" or advocate extreme
anti-government doctrines, fearing the growth of
government bureaucracies and intrusion upon civil
liberties. Such groups are likely to enjoy a
resurgence in interest, membership and activities as
the government adopts more stringent security

U.S. lawmakers historically have been very cautious
about tipping the balance between law enforcement and
civil liberties. It took Congress nearly a year to
pass former U.S. President Bill Clinton's
anti-terrorism bill after the 1998 bombings of two
U.S. embassies in East Africa. In the weeks before the
recent terror attacks, privacy advocates hailed a
major victory when a San Diego judge banned the use of
automatic cameras to catch cars driving through red

But the attacks in New York and Washington have
dramatically altered much of the nation's thinking, as
many Americans are beginning to place a greater value
on security. This shift is reflected in the federal

The newly announced Office of Homeland Security, to be
headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, is aimed at
knitting together counter terrorism functions now
scattered across more than 40 federal agencies,
including the FBI, CIA, National Guard and local
police and firefighting forces. It will focus not only
on preventing terrorist attacks but also on fortifying
potential targets by developing plans to protect the
nation's transportation, power and food systems,
according to officials cited by the Associated Press.

The "Mobilization Against Terrorism Act" still under
consideration in Congress would rewrite laws dealing
with wiretapping, eavesdropping and immigration.
Included in the bill are provisions to ease the
restrictions the FBI faces on installing its Carnivore
Internet-surveillance system as well as streamlining
procedures to obtaining voicemail recordings.

Further provisions include eliminating the statue of
limitations for terrorism-related crimes and allowing
federal authorities to detain without a court order
non-U.S. citizens suspected of involvement in
terrorist activities. Also under consideration is a
modification to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act to make it easier for prosecutors in certain
highly sensitive cases to look through the records of
a business, credit card company or Internet provider. 

Fewer restrictions on law enforcement agents and the
creation of a new federal office may be necessary
steps to protect the United States from foreign
terrorists. But powerful bureaucracies and narrowed
civil liberties are exactly the sort of triggers that
set off militia groups.

We are likely to see a resurgence of militia group
activity just at the time that law enforcement
agencies are retasking themselves to counter foreign
threats. Even if law enforcement agents continue to
infiltrate militia groups, it is much more difficult
to monitor and prevent activity from individuals. As
militia ranks fill, it is not unlikely to expect some
of them to resort to the same kind of armed activity
as Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski did in the past.

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