Law, Politics

An excellent two part (one, two) article by Michelle Goldberg in Salon about how Ashcroft is encouraging local police departments to spy on anti-war protesters. Michelle refers to an article from two years ago in the Nation:

In a Nation article from May 2002, Robert Dreyfuss wrote of that spillover effect. The Justice Department, he reported, had offered billions of dollars in anti-terror subsidies to local governments, but first they had to show that there were potential threat elements” in their area.

Under the Justice Department program each state was asked to conduct a county-by-county assessment of potential terrorist threats in order to qualify for the federal largesse,” Dreyfuss wrote. In each city and county local police were required to identify up to fifteen groups or individuals called potential threat elements (PTEs). The Justice Department helpfully points out that the motivations of the PTEs could be political, religious, racial, environmental [or] special interest.’ At a stroke, the Justice Department prompted 17,000 state and local police departments to begin monitoring radicals.”

Michelle goes on to point out that, while the scale of such efforts is not as big as it was in the 50s and 60s, the potential for damage is much greater, since the results of local investigations are immediately entered into national computer databases.

What we’re seeing is something much larger in scale and danger than anything that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s,” he says. That’s because of computers. Now, instead of having these agencies working in semi-isolation or occasional cooperation, there’s the equivalent of the great Alaska pipeline running between them, and the information flows in both directions. In addition, in the 1950s or 60s, it took weeks of pavement pounding and doorknobbing for the FBI or police or military to collect personal information about people, the kind of information you need to put them under surveillance. Today that kind of information can be obtained by a few computer keystrokes. The harassment potential is much greater.”