Hundreds of police, firefighters, paramedics and utility workers have been trained and recently dispatched as "Terrorism Liaison Officers" in Colorado, Arizona and California to watch for "suspicious activity" which is later fed into a secret government database.
According to a Denver Post report, "It's a tactic intended to feed better data into terrorism early-warning systems and uncover intelligence that could help fight anti-U.S. forces. But the vague nature of the TLOs' mission, and their focus on reporting both legal and illegal activity, has generated objections from privacy advocates and civil libertarians.
"Suspicious activity" is broadly defined in TLO training as behavior that could lead to terrorism: taking photos of no apparent aesthetic value, making measurements or notes, espousing extremist beliefs or conversing in code, according to a draft Department of Justice/Major Cities Chiefs Association document."
"We don't snoop into private citizens' lives. We aren't living in a communist state," claims Lt. Tony Lopez, commander of Denver's intelligence unit - but the program bears close parallels to the East German Stasi system, which at its height employed one informant for every seven citizens.
Democracy Now interviewed the Denver Post writer and an ACLU representative about the program.
It is also reminiscent of the supposedly canned 2002 Operation TIPS program, which would have turned 4 per cent of Americans into informants under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department.
TIPS lived on in other guises, such as the Highway Watch program, a $19 billion dollar Homeland Security-run project which trains truckers to watch for suspicious activity on America's highways.
More recently, ABC News reported that "The FBI is taking cues from the CIA to recruit thousands of covert informants in the United States as part of a sprawling effort.....to aid with criminal investigations."
Since authorities now define mundane activities like buying baby formula, beer, wearing Levi jeans, carrying identifying documents like a drivers license and traveling with women or children or mentioning the U.S. constitution as the behavior of potential terrorists, the bounty for the American Stasi to turn in political dissidents is sure to be too tempting to resist.
Indeed, last month Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers and the New York Times heartily celebrated the fact that an increasing number of Americans are becoming informants and turning in their neighbors and family members to the authorities in return for cash rewards.
Citing gas prices, foreclosure rates and runaway food price inflation, The Times lauded the fact that citizens are reporting on each other, ensuring "a substantial increase in Crime Stopper-related arrests and recovered property, as callers turn in neighbors, grandchildren or former boyfriends in exchange for a little cash."
As any budding dictator will tell you, the creation of an informant society where individuals self-regulate their behavior in fear of being turned in by a citizen spy is one of the key stepping stones to tyranny. To have the media celebrate the fact that people are reporting on their neighbors and grandchildren puts the icing on the cake.
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