[News] How to Fund an American Police State

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Sun Mar 4 19:20:10 EST 2012

How to Fund an American Police State
Real Money for an Imaginary War


At the height of the Occupy Wall Street evictions, it seemed as 
though some diminutive version of "shock and awe" had stumbled from 
Baghdad, Iraq, to Oakland, California.  American police forces had 
been "militarized," many commentators 
as though the firepower and callous tactics on display were 
anomalies, surprises bursting upon us from nowhere.

There should have been no surprise. Those flash grenades 
in Oakland and the sound cannons on 
York's streets simply opened small windows onto a national policing 
landscape long in the process of militarization -- a bleak domestic 
no man's land marked by tanks and drones, robot bomb detectors, 
grenade launchers, tasers, and most of all, interlinked video 
surveillance cameras and information databases growing quietly on 
unobtrusive server farms everywhere.

The ubiquitous fantasy of "homeland security," pushed hard by the 
federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by 
the public.  It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy 
among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in 
armor and spy equipment.

In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why 
shouldn't the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a 
closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, 
courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) 
to the one up and running in New York's Times Square?

So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement 
since 9/11 that the federal government could have 
post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in 
the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the 
record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have 
added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, 
my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating 
Detroit, Newark, and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling 
bridges and roads, too.

But why drone on?  We all know that addressing acute social and 
economic issues here in the homeland was the road not taken. Since 
9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has 
out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to 
state and local law enforcement, as well as other first 
responders.  At the same time, defense contractors have proven 
endlessly inventive in adapting 
pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq 
and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San 
Francisco and lower Manhattan. Oakland may not be Basra but (as 
former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say) there are 
always the 
unknowns: best be prepared.

All told, the federal government 
appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for 
homeland security-related activities and equipment since the 9/11 
attacks. To conclude, though, that "the police" have become 
increasingly militarized casts too narrow a net.  The truth is that 
virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilized and 
militarized right down to the university campus.

Perhaps the pepper spray 
on Occupy demonstrators last November at University of 
California-Davis wasn't directly paid for by the federal government. 
But those who used it work closely with Homeland Security and the FBI 
"in developing prevention strategies that threaten campus life, 
property, and environments," as UC Davis's Comprehensive Emergency 
and Continuity Management Plan puts it.

Government budgets at every level now include allocations aimed at 
fighting an ephemeral "War on Terror" in the United States. A vast 
surveillance and military buildup has taken place nationwide to 
conduct a pseudo-war against what can be imagined, not what we 
actually face. The costs of this effort, started by the Bush 
administration and promoted faithfully by the Obama administration, 
have been, and continue to be, virtually incalculable. In the 
process, public service and the public imagination have been weaponized.

Farewell to Peaceful Private Life

We're not just talking money eagerly squandered.  That may prove the 
least of it. More importantly, the fundamental values of American 
democracy -- particularly the right to lead an autonomous private 
life -- have been compromised with grim efficiency. The weaponry and 
tactics now routinely employed by police are visible evidence of this.

Yes, it's true that Montgomery County, Texas, has 
a weapons-capable drone.  (They say they'll only arm it with tasers, 
if necessary.) Yes, it's true that the Tampa police have 
the force up with an eight-ton armored personnel carrier, augmenting 
two older tanks the department already owns. Yes, the Fargo police 
are ready with 
detection robots, and Chicago 
a network of at least 15,000 interlinked surveillance cameras.

New York City's 34,000-member police force is now the ground zero of 
outcry over rampant secret spying on Muslim students and communities 
up and down the East coast.  It has been a big beneficiary of federal 
security largess.  Between 2003 and 2010, the city 
more than $1.1 billion through Homeland Security's Urban Areas 
Security Initiative grant program. And that's only one of the grant 
programs funneling such money to New York.

The Obama White House itself has 
funded part of the New York Police Department's anti-Muslim 
surveillance program. Top officials of New York's finest have, 
however, repeatedly 
to disclose just how much anti-terrorism money it has been spending, 
citing, of course, security.

Can New York City ever be "secure"? Mayor Michael Bloomberg 
recently with obvious satisfaction: "I have my own army in the NYPD, 
which is the seventh largest army in the world."  That would be the 
Vietnamese army actually, but accuracy isn't the point.  The smugness 
of the boast is. And meanwhile the money keeps pouring in and the 
"security" activities only multiply.

Why, for instance, are New York cops 
to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Newark, New Jersey, 
to spy on ordinary Muslim citizens, who have nothing to do with New 
York and are not suspected of doing anything? For what conceivable 
purpose does Tampa want an eight-ton armored vehicle? Why do Texas 
sheriffs north of Houston believe one drone -- or a dozen, for that 
matter -- will make Montgomery County a better place? What manner of 
thinking conjures up a future that requires such hardware? We have 
entered a dark world that demands an inescapable battery of 
closed-circuit, networked video cameras trained on ordinary citizens 
strolling Michigan Avenue.

This is not simply a police issue. Law enforcement agencies may 
acquire the equipment and deploy it, but city legislators and 
executives must approve the expenditures and the uses. State 
legislators and bureaucrats refine the local grant requests. Federal 
officials, with endless input from national security and defense 
vendors and lobbyists, appropriate the funds.

Doubters are simply swept aside (while legions of security and 
terrorism pundits spin dread-inducing fantasies), and ultimately, the 
American people accept and live with the results. We get what we pay 
for -- Mayor Bloomberg's "army," replicated coast to coast.

Budgets Tell the Story

Militarized thinking is made manifest through budgets, which daily 
reshape political and bureaucratic life in large and small ways. Not 
long after the 9/11 attacks, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, 
before the Senate Judiciary Committee, used this formula to define 
the new American environment and so the thinking that went with it: 
"Terrorist operatives infiltrate our communities -- plotting, 
planning, and waiting to kill again."  To counter that, the 
government had urgently embarked on "a wartime reorganization," he 
said, and was "forging new relationships of cooperation with state 
and local law enforcement."

While such visionary Ashcroftian rhetoric has cooled in recent years, 
the relationships and funding he touted a decade ago have been 
institutionalized throughout government -- federal, state, and local 
-- as well as civil society. The creation of the Department of 
Homeland Security, with a total 2012 budget of about $57 billion, is 
the most obvious example of this.

That budget only hints at what's being doled out for homeland 
security at the federal level. Such moneys flow not just from 
Homeland Security, but from the Justice Department, the Environmental 
Protection Agency, the Commerce Department, the Department of 
Agriculture, and the Department of Defense.

In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget 
that 31 separate federal agencies were involved in homeland 
security-related funding that year to the tune of more than $65 
billion. The Census Bureau, which has itself been 
by War on Terror activities -- mapping Middle Eastern and Muslim 
communities for counter-terrorism officials -- estimated that federal 
homeland security funding topped $70 billion in 2010. But government 
officials acknowledge that much funding is not included in that 
compilation. (Grants made through the $5.6 billion Project BioShield, 
to offer but one example, an exotic vaccination and medical program 
launched in 2004, are absent from the total.)

Even the estimate of more than $635 billion in such expenditures does 
not tell the full spending story. That figure does not include the 
national intelligence or military intelligence budgets for which the 
Obama Administration is seeking $52.6 billion and $19.6 billion 
respectively in 2013, or secret parts of the national security 
budget, the so-called black budget.

Local funding is also unaccounted for. New York's Police Commissioner 
Raymond Kelly 
total national homeland security spending could easily be near a 
trillion dollars. Money well spent, he says -- New York needs that 
anti-terror army, the thousands of surveillance cameras, those 
sophisticated new weapons, and, naturally, a navy that now includes 
drone submarines (thanks to $540,000 in Homeland Security cash) to 
keep an eye on the terrorist threat beneath the waves.

And even that's not enough.

"We have a new boat on order," Kelly 
recently, alluding to a bullet-proof vessel paid for by, yes, 
Homeland Security (cost unspecified). "We envision a situation where 
we may have to get to an island or across water quickly, so we're 
able to transport our heavy weapons officers rapidly. We have to do 
things differently. We know that this is where terrorists want to come."

With submarines available to those who protect and serve (and grab 
the grant money), a simple armored SWAT carrier should hardly raise 
an eyebrow. The Tampa police will get one as part of their security 
buildup before the city hosts the Republican convention this summer. 
Tampa and Charlotte, which will host the Democratic convention, each 
received special $50 million security allocations from Congress to 
"harden" the cities.

Marc Hamlin, Tampa's assistant police chief, 
the Tampa city council that two old tanks, already owned and operated 
by the police, were simply not enough.  They were just too 
unreliable. "Thank God we have two, because one seems to break down 
every week," he lamented.

Not everyone on the council seemed convinced Tampa needed a truck 
sheathed in 1.5-inch high-grade steel, and featuring ballistic glass 
panels, blast shields, and powered turrets. City Council Vice 
Chairwoman Mary Mulhern claimed she found the purchase "kind of 
troubling," a sign that Tampa is becoming "militarized." Then she 
voted to approve it anyway, along with the other council members. 
Hamlin was pleased. "It's one of those things where you prepare for 
the worst, and you hope for the best," he 

When Mulhern suggested that some of the windfall $50 million might be 
used to help the city's growing homeless population, Tampa Mayor Bob 
her straight. "We can't be diverted from what the appropriate use of 
that money is, and that is to provide a safe environment for the 
convention.  It's not to be used for pet projects or things totally 
unrelated to security."

Tampa will also be spending more than $1 million for state of the art 
digital video uplinks to surveillance helicopters.  ("Analog 
technology is almost Stone Age," commented one approving council 
member.) Another $2 million will go to install 60 surveillance 
cameras on city streets. That represents an uncharacteristic pullback 
from the city's initial plan to acquire more than 230 cameras as well 
as two drones at a cost of about $5 million. Even the police deemed 
that too expensive -- for the moment.

All of this hardware will remain in Tampa after the Republicans and 
any protestors are long gone. What use will it serve then? In the 
Tampa area, the armored truck will join the armored fleet, police 
officials said, ferrying SWAT teams on calls and protecting police 
serving search warrants. In the past, Hamlin claimed, Tampa's tanks 
have been shot at. He did not mention that crime rates in Tampa and 
across Florida are at four-decade lows.

The video surveillance cameras will, of course, also 
in place, streaming digitized images to an ever-growing database, 
where they will be stored waiting for the day when facial recognition 
software is employed to mix and match. This strategy is being 
followed all over the country, including in Chicago, with its huge 
video surveillance network, and New York City, where all of lower 
Manhattan is now on camera.

Tampa has already been down this road once in the post-9/11 era. The 
city was home to a much-watched experiment in using such 
software.  Images taken by cameras installed on the street were to be 
matched with photographs in a database of suspects. The system failed 
completely and was 
in 2003. On the other hand, sheriffs in the Tampa Bay area are 
facial recognition software to match photographs snapped by police on 
the street with a database of suspects with outstanding warrants. 
Police are excited by that program and look forward to its future expansion.

The Rise of the Fusion Centers

Homeland Security has played a big role in creating one particularly 
potent element in the nation's expanding database network. Working 
with the Department of Justice in the wake of 9/11, it launched what 
has grown into 72 interlinked state "fusion centers" -- repositories 
for everything from Immigration Customs Enforcement data and 
photographs to local police reports and even gossip. 
Activity Reports" gathered from public tipsters -- thanks to Homeland 
Security's "if you see something, say something" program -- are now 
flowing into state centers. Those fusion centers are possibly the 
greatest facilitators of dish in history, and have vast potential for 
disseminating dubious information and stigmatizing purely political 
activity. And most Americans have never even heard of them.

Yet fusion centers now operate in every state, centralizing 
intelligence gathering and facilitating dissemination of material of 
every sort across the country. Here is where information gathered by 
cops and citizens, FBI agents and immigration officers goes to 
fester. It is a staggering load of data, unevenly and sometimes 
questionably vetted, and it is ultimately 
to any state or local law-enforcement officer, any immigration agent 
or official, any intelligence or security bureaucrat with a computer 
and network access.

The idea for these centers grew from the notion that agencies needed 
to share what they knew in an "unfettered" environment. How 
comforting to know that the walls between intelligence and law 
enforcement are breached in an essentially 

Many other states have monitored antiwar activists, gathering and 
storing names and information. 
and other states have stored "intelligence" on Muslims. 
gathered reports on opponents of natural gas drilling. 
has scrutinized supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul. The 
list of such questionable activities is very long. We have no idea 
how much dubious data has been squirreled away by authorities and 
remains within the networked system. But we do know that information 
pours into it with relative ease and spreads like an oil 
slick.  Cleaning up and removing the mess is another story entirely.

Anyone who wants to learn something about fusion center funding will 
also find it maddeningly difficult to track.  Not even the Homeland 
Security Department can say with certainty how much of its own money 
has gone into these data nests over the last decade. The amounts are 
staggering, however. From 2004 to 2009 alone, the Government 
Accountability Office (GAO) reported that states used about $426 
million in Homeland Security Department grants to fund fusion-related 
activities nationally. The centers also receive state and local 
funds, as well as funds from other federal agencies. How much? We 
don't know, although GAO data suggest state and local funding at 
least equals the Homeland Security share.

Yet, as Tampa, New York City, and other urban areas bulk up with 
high-tech anti-terrorism equipment and fusion centers have 
proliferated, the number of even remotely "terror-related" incidents 
has declined. The equipment acquired and projects inaugurated to fend 
off largely imaginary threats is instead increasingly deployed to 
address ordinary criminal activity, perceived political disruptions, 
and the tracking and surveillance of American Muslims. The 
Transportation Safety Administration is now even 
highways.  It could be called a case of mission creep, but the more 
accurate description might be: bait-and-switch.

of an American dying in a terrorist incident in a given year are 1 in 
3.5 million. To reduce that risk, to make something minuscule even 
more minuscule, what has the nation spent? What has it cost us? 
Instead of rebuilding a ravaged American city in a timely fashion or 
making Americans more secure in their "underwater" homes and their 
disappearing jobs, we have created militarized police forces, visible 
evidence of police-state-style funding.

Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer 
and a 
regular. His most recent book is 
Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland. To listen 
to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which 
Salisbury discusses post-9/11 police "mission creep" in this country, 
or download it to your iPod 

[Note on Sources and Further Reading: The following documents can all 
be found in pdf format by clicking on "here": the UC Davis 
Comprehensive Emergency Management plan 
Census Bureau figures on Homeland Security spending 
a report on questionable fusion center actions 
the GAO report on fusion centers 
a report on the decline in the terrorist threat 
and Congressional testimony favoring counterterrorism "mission creep" 

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on 

Copyright 2012 Stephan Salisbury

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