The War at Home

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Washington – Three months after Sept. 11, many analysts are examining the domestic consequences of the “war on terrorism.” In interviews conducted by the Institute for Public Accuracy, critics focused on the FBI’s increased surveillance powers and the administration’s boost to big business through a proposed “stimulus package.”

Attorney General John Ashcroft “would like us to trust the FBI with sweeping new powers,” said Nkechi Taicha, director of the Equal Justice Program at the Howard University School of Law. “This is the FBI that tried to disrupt and destroy numerous nonviolent organizations ranging from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador to Students for a Democratic Society. … Although the claimed purpose of the Bureau’s COINTELPRO [Counterintelligence Program] action — which Ashcroft seems to want to revive and expand — was to ‘prevent violence,’ many of the FBI’s tactics were clearly intended to foster violence, and many others could reasonably have been expected to cause violence.”

Fordham University associate professor of law Brian Glick, author of “War at Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists,” points out that “Ashcroft is not just proposing to drop the limits for spying on violent organizations — he wants to drop the limits, period. The FBI has a history of violating the legal limits; there is no telling what they might do without such limits. The document that launched the COINTELPRO operations against the black social movements directed FBI agents to ‘disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize’ dissident movements.”

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, warns that the enhanced surveillance measures could lead the FBI to more repressive measures. “Surveillance of dissidents across the political spectrum is now conducted through a loose network of government agencies, corporate security and private right-wing researchers,” he said. “By re-establishing a dynamic where any dissident group can be secretly accused of being linked to terrorism, and subject to disruption, the government opens the door to domestic covert operations that in the past led to orchestrated confrontations and killings.”

Meanwhile, Jim Redden, author of “Snitch Culture: How Citizens Are Turned Into the Eyes and Ears of the State,” recalls that “there’s a long and sordid history of government operatives committing the very crimes they are supposed to prevent and setting up dissidents with phony charges.”

Micah Sifry, a senior analyst with Public Campaign addressed the $100 billion “stimulus package” proposed by President Bush. “At a time when the country is experiencing a renewal of solidarity and a sense of shared sacrifice, we’re confronting the twin challenges of war and a declining economy. It’s obscene that some of corporate America thinks this is the moment to cash in on all their access and influence in Congress with unwarranted tax rebates and unnecessary bailouts. By a margin of 56 to 32 percent, the public chooses increased government spending over new tax cuts, according to a Gallup Poll. But Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says not to worry. The $100 billion House bill will provide 300,000 new jobs, he told the Sunday TV talk shows. That works out to $333,333 in corporate welfare for every new job. Rather than using the word stimulus, the bill should be called the Campaign Contributors War Profiteering Act of 2001.”

Joan Claybrook, president of the advocacy organization Public Citizen, said: “While virtually everyone in the country saw Sept. 11 as an immense tragedy, many special interests saw it as a rich opportunity. They promptly sent hoards of lobbyists to swarm Capitol Hill to line up for all kinds of goodies. The airline industry was the first in line and got a $15 billion bailout package with no strings attached. It didn’t even have to share the money with its workers. Other industries have followed suit. The insurance industry is pressing for the government to bail it out in future attacks, and other big businesses are seeking huge tax breaks in the pending stimulus package. Even the administration has jumped on the bandwagon by dramatically cutting civil liberties and trying to push fast track trade authority through Congress — all under the guise of wartime necessity.”

At the University of California at Santa Cruz, economics professor David Kaun brings up the question of war profiteering by military industries. “It wasn’t that long ago — the late 1800s and forward — that the term ‘war profiteering’ impacted with a visible smudge upon those so labeled,” he said. “After World War Two, ‘arms merchants’ became highly sophisticated, ceding the promotional role to our major universities and defense ‘intellectuals.’ Today, having been hit with the double-whammy of terrorism and recession, the old pejorative seems alive and well. It’s full speed ahead with Star Wars … accompanied with equally misguided tax breaks for the wealthy and permanent reductions in corporate taxes. Under the guise of security and stimulus, the Bush administration and House Republicans have taken the concept of ‘profiteering’ to broader and more obscene levels than ever before.

David Harrison is a writer with IPA Media, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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