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Teaching & Understanding Sept 11 Mark Hamm & Paul Leighton

Information Technology and Weapons of Mass Repression

Herman & Julia Schwendinger

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Go to article (off StopViolence to Schwendinger's website)


This essay on civil liberties indicts the Bush administration for ignoring traditional policing policies developed by European countries to deal with terrorism. It accuses the administration of exploiting the public reaction to the heinous crimes conducted by terrorists on Sept 11, 2001. It asserts that this unvarnished exploitation is being instigated by the greatest oil and power grab in history. In addition, it is using the public fear of terrorism to justify an unprecedented plundering of public revenues by corporate interests.

Mainly, the essay focuses on the role of information technology in the development of 'weapons of mass repression." It indicates that Nazi Germany was the historical precursor for adopting data processing equipment for mass repression. It also recalls the record of U.S. government unconstitutional surveillance of political dissidents. It points out that the Bush administration attempted, five months before 9/11, to seize 1.25 million e-mail message logs from the Seattle IndyMedia website in April, 2000, during demonstrations against the Quebec City Summit Meeting. Federal agents could not get the logs; but, unfortunately, the Homeland Security Act has now removed legal barriers.

This essay of 44 pages may also provide unfamiliar yet valuable information for activists. For instance, while many have heard of the egregious harms involving the FBI files and the COINTELPRO program, it observes that modern information technology was actually first used as a weapon of mass repression in Nazi Germany. This technology helped kill millions of anti-fascists, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and handicapped people. Will those who ignore this history experience it as well?. [much more on COINTELPRO and links to documents]

The essay also recalls the egregious harms described in Frank Donner’s classic, The Age of Surveillance, which is based upon his long experience as a practicing attorney and Director of the ACLU’s Project on Political Surveillance. Donner’s work describes the endless number of ‘dirty tricks’ and ‘black bag’ operations conducted throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s by government agencies. Furthermore, affiliation with the FBI, CIA, IRS, Military intelligence agencies, etc., enabled agents in these ‘intelligence agencies’ to get away with slandering political dissenters, forging their signatures, burglarizing their homes and offices, tapping their phones unlawfully, instigating loss of employment, breaking-up and harassing their families, disrupting political demonstrations, encouraging unlawful arrests and unwarranted IRS audits, and so on. 

Donner’s work also points to the use of informers and agents provocateurs who, under the orders of officials, even encouraged homicides. These subversive government policies also targeted numerous organizations including the ACLU, Institute for Policy Studies, Ford Foundation, Lawyers Guild, etc., because of their dedication to social reform and social justice. The essay calls for an aggressive campaign aimed at preventing this scenario today.

While the technology is backed by plans to organize millions of citizens and immigrants who will spy on their neighbors and by mass arrests aimed at getting people's names, fingerprints, photographs, addresses and employment, it is still at an early stage. Consequently, the essay uses the phrase, incipient fascism, to classify the political conditions employing this technology today. It is not comparable to the bloody tyranny that rapidly destroyed constitutional liberties in Germany after Hindenburg and Hitler suspended free speech, free assembly, protection against unlawful searches and seizures, the right to privacy and the rule of law in 1933. On the other hand, our government is moving ahead at break-neck speed and politically independent Americans will suffer greatly unless they adopt an aggressive strategy aimed at disarming its weapons of mass repression. 


Go to article, Information Technology and Weapons of Mass Repression (off StopViolence to Schwendinger's website)

An example of the issue, "U.S. Backs Florida's New Counterterrorism Database:
'Matrix' Offers Law Agencies Faster Access to Americans' Personal Records" (Washington Post, 6 Aug 2003, p A1):

"Police in Florida are creating a counterterrorism database designed to give law enforcement agencies around the country a powerful new tool to analyze billions of records about both criminals and ordinary Americans.

"Organizers said the system, dubbed Matrix, enables investigators to find patterns and links among people and events faster than ever before, combining police records with commercially available collections of personal information about most American adults. It would let authorities, for instance, instantly find the name and address of every brown-haired owner of a red Ford pickup truck in a 20-mile radius of a suspicious event. 

from a story in the Christian Science Monitor:

"When you board a plane in the next year, your pilot may be armed. Make a call from a pay phone at the ballpark, and it may be tapped. Pay for a sandwich with a credit card, and the transaction may wind up in an electronic file with your tax returns, travel history, and speeding tickets.  These are some of the ways that the biggest reorganization of the federal government in half a century could trickle down into the minutiae of the daily life of Americans."  rest of story, Security act to pervade daily lives




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