Montreal, September 29, 2001  /  No 89  
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          SoIt was James Madison who said, « There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation. » I have always subscribed to Madison's view, but the events of September 11th last demonstrate that the range of options available today will greatly accelerate the curtailment of those freedoms to which he referred.
          Purely by chance I was watching Canada AM on CTV that Tuesday morning around 8:45 AM, when the first terrorist attack took place at the World Trade Centre. While speculation at first was that the first plane was simply an errant small plane, piloted perhaps by a novice pilot, it soon became obvious that we were all wrong. The live shot of the second plane hurtling unwaveringly into the second tower convinced us all that it was no accident. An event had occurred which will remain etched forever in people's memories; just as the assassination of JFK, Pearl Harbour or the outbreak of World War II at 11:00 AM, on September 3, 1939 did in the last century. 
          Sometime later we learned of the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of another jet in the fields of Pennsylvania. Surely the hit on the second tower must have caused other people to realise what was happening. How could the so-called third plane stay in the air, hijacked, for almost an hour after other two hijacked planes had struck the WTC? Even though the transponder was presumably turned off by the hijackers, the plane must have been spotted by ground radar as an unidentified aircraft. How could it fly to the Midwest, turn around and fly back to Washington, to the Pentagon, unmolested by US fighter planes? Disbelief or a failure of intelligence? 
          I learned later that week, that Goldman Sachs in the London had received a security threat warning at about 9.00 AM GMT on that fateful Tuesday, almost 5 hours prior to the WTC attack. Elsewhere there were reports that the Israeli security service had tipped off the Americans some time before. Whether any of this was true we shall probably never know. 
Insecurity services 
          I have on occasion wondered if a country's security services exist primarily to monitor its own citizens rather than any potential enemy. Such services, like our police services, are conveniently available for the use of those in power, although in turn they may well control their masters through blackmail. Whatever the truth may be, it is not clear how many such services have prevented disasters by predicting them in advance. The other problem with security services is how much confidence one can have that a given agent, especially if from a minority – ethnic or otherwise – will not be a double agent or that the information they supply is true and not simply disinformation? 
          One explanation of the intelligence failure may reside in the outcome of the emasculation of the Central Intelligence Agency by the Church Committee in the mid-1970s. The American political left of those times was so incensed by CIA plans to assassinate Castro, that they forbade any such actions and restricted the agency's activities quite seriously. At the same time, the agency reduced the number of its agents on the ground able to infiltrate suspected terrorist cells in foreign lands. Worse still, they reduced the number of foreign language speakers employed by their agencies which probably explains why the signals were not interpreted early enough. 
          The National Security Agency (known to some as « No Such Agency ») has the ability to monitor communications in real time, but seemingly lacks the ability to transcribe them anywhere near as quickly. One commentator mentioned that at the time of the Haitian affair they had just one Creole speaking employee. When the Cold War came to an end, the security services must have felt neglected and without a clear objective, but one might wonder still why they did not foresee this particular act. For the next eighteen days, and for how much longer in the future I cannot imagine, every US news channel was filled with speculation about the perpetrators. 
          While replays of the horrendous view of that second plane striking the second tower of the WTC were banned after a few days, there was continuous reference to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi with a hatred of America, who lives, or lived, it is said in Afghanistan. We saw and listened to American politicians, united for once, eagerly seizing the opportunity to denounce their enemies and talk about their newly declared war. Interestingly, at least initially, there was no talk of not « sending our boys to die on some foreign field ». It was at least ten days before we began to hear such sentiments murmured again. How noisy those protests will become when the body bags start cascading into US air force bases is anybody's guess. 
          Politicians throughout the world rushed to the TV cameras to enunciate their usual unctuous statements denouncing these acts of terrorism. Canadian politicians, both federal and provincial, were not slow to appear either. According to Quebec's Bernard Landry, the Americans, doubtless to their great surprise, became « nos cousins ». A position occupied hitherto exclusively by the French. Later, following threats on Muslim communities in Montreal, Mr. Landry spoke of the need for tolerance; perhaps recalling his own intemperate actions in a hotel on the evening of the last referendum. Prime Minister Chrétien apparently saw no reason to recall Parliament, or to call back his vacationing Cabinet, and refused to spell out how much assistance Canada would provide in this newly declared war. Perhaps he was more concerned about the role Canada may have played in harbouring, if not the actual perpetrators, then many of those linked to the same groups. I wondered why we had to learn about some of this from the King of Jordan appearing on CNN's Larry King Live show some days later?  
A Zionist plot? 
          Foreign leaders from countries likely to feel included in the American definition of terrorist were quick to deny their involvement. In one speech from the Middle East, it was suggested that these acts of terrorism against the WTC and the Pentagon were actually performed by Zionists. There was no attempt to explain why the Zionists chose to destroy the foremost symbol of what is frequently described as a temple of Zionist capitalism. Of course the Israelis have on occasion provoked others, and some may recall the US Liberty incident, attacks on the King David Hotel, the murder of a Scandinavian UN envoy as well as espionage against the US as discovered during the Jonathan Pollard case. 
          The attacks do not seem to serve any Arab group or nation's interests but their timing came in the midst of international condemnation of Israel for its policy of the death squad assassination of Palestinian political and police figures. It also followed the Durban conference, when many participants from the Middle East condemned Israel and Zionism. On a more sombre note, the Jerusalem Times reported that a team sent by the Israel Defence Ministry to film Palestinian children rejoicing in East Jerusalem, staged the event that was later circulated in the US and around the world. 
     « I have on occasion wondered if a country's security services exist primarily to monitor its own citizens rather than any potential enemy. It is not clear how many such services have prevented disasters by predicting them in advance. »
          Until the shock of this apparently well co-ordinated act of terrorism recedes, many people will be saying things that they may well regret later. If future tragedies such as this are to be avoided then the people of the USA and their government officials must find out how this situation arose. If they do not, then there is very likely to be a marked decrease in the civil liberties of the Americans, and by extension, that of the rest of us. Terrorism is not just a criminal act, it is quite plainly an act of war perpetrated by an militarily weak enemy, whether that enemy is an identifiable country or a group of malcontents. 
          In fact, civil liberties were affected within twenty four hours of the act, when the FBI busied themselves getting Internet Service Providers to install devices (Carnivore) enabling them to monitor all e-mail traffic (see THERE WAS I, THINKING IT MEANT A FLESH-EATING ANIMAL, le QL, no 74). Whether these interceptions will help is unknown, but undoubtedly they will be accompanied by the increased use of profiling, a way for the more biased members among law enforcement officials to harass those groups that they may not particularly like. There were too, death threats and vandalism directed against individuals and their places of worship.  
          The ignorance of many in North America was abundantly displayed in many attacks on disparate foreign groups – even Sikhs – and in one case the murder of an Hindu gas station owner. Reading some of the traffic passing through US chatrooms showed that there was considerable bias against US citizens of Muslim and Arab origin. Such ignorance was not confined to the U.S; harassment occurred in Canada, bombings took place in Britain and « foreigners » were molested in various other parts of the world. If this is representative of the views of the average person then it would be unrealistic to believe that they do not form a part of the official ethos. 
          Having an abiding interest in the many ways in which officialdom limits our freedoms and intrudes upon our privacy, I had thought that the satellite eavesdropping facilities of the NSA would have picked up traffic from those places where they believe America's enemies reside. With their computers operating at better than 1 trillion calculations per second, one might think it relatively simple to decrypt and analyse such messages. That this had not happened seems to be related, at least in part, to the former President of the USA, Bill Clinton, having allowed the sale, to states like Syria, of advanced encryption cell phones and other encrypted telephony equipment, as well as secure glass fibre computer networks. 
          Likewise, China has purchased similar equipment, which, allegedly, it has now sold to Iraq and its psychopathic leader. According to one irate US official, « We're giving them spread-spectrum radios, which are almost impossible to break into. We're giving them fiber [sic] optics. We're giving them a high level of encryption. We're giving them computer networks that can't be tapped ». Odd behaviour indeed, and hard to explain by those who are now trying to condemn their former customers. 
Spying on their own citizens 
          On the domestic scene, the FBI has been spending much of its time of late infiltrating « white supremacist » and right-wing militia groups rather than undertaking the politically incorrect process of snooping on minorities, especially those of other races who may pose a threat to US security. The Wall Street Journal in thanking Middle East leaders for their condolences told them clearly that they « need to understand that their societies carefully nurture and inculcate resentments and hatreds against America ». 
          The suggestion was mooted that the entry of some of the terrorists was made through Canada. This may well prove to be true, but it should not be forgotten that they also had to pass the scrutiny of US Immigration at the border. Certainly Canadian and American immigration policy – or lack of it – has made both countries havens for supporters of terrorist groups such as the Tamil Tigers, Palestine's Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hizbullah, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group and Egypt's Al Gamat; not to forget Mr. Bin Laden's elusive Al Qaida group. 
          The question which will need to be answered, and which will cause king-size headaches for defenders of civil liberties, is that if, under the present US Constitution and Bill of Rights, they can crack down on terrorist cells sheltered by religious and civil rights organisations. The USA has never had to face up to what they describe now as a war on their own territory, so they have never had to test the bounds of their rightly cherished rights and liberties. 
          The US has already introduced a bill called the « Mobilization Against Terrorism Act » which among other things will increase the electronic surveillance of its citizens. The bill offers little in exchange by way of the checks and balances usually provided through the judiciary. One stunning section proposed that « United States prosecutors may use against American citizens information collected by a foreign government, even if the collection would have violated the Fourth Amendment. » This means that foreign governments will now be doing much of the dirty work of spying on American citizens' communications all over the world. 
          The newly proposed Act includes measures which according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation: 
  • Make it possible to obtain e-mail message header information and Internet user web browsing patterns without a wiretap order;
  • Eviscerate controls on roving wiretaps;
  • Permit law enforcement to disclose information obtained through wiretaps to any employee of the Executive branch;
  • Reduce restrictions on domestic investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA);
  • Permit grand juries to provide information to the US intelligence community;
  • Permit the President to designate any « foreign-directed individual, group, or entity, » including any United States citizen or organization, as a target for FISA surveillance;
  • Prevent people from even talking about terrorist acts;
  • Establish a DNA database for every person convicted of any felony or certain sex offenses, almost all of which are entirely unrelated to terrorism.
          As expected, President Bush created a Cabinet-level position with a sweeping mandate to oversee an « Office of Homeland Security, » protecting Americans from attack. One might hope too that this so-called War on Terrorism turns out to be more successful than the hugely expensive and fruitless War on Drugs. Like all wars this one too required its own Czar, and we did not have long to wait for his appointment, we seem to have more Czars today than the Russians ever did. As an aside, that man we were all becoming so tired of hearing about – the forgettable Congressman from Modesto, Gary Condit – is now a member of this committee. The task involves coordination of government-wide domestic security efforts, including meshing domestic FBI and foreign CIA intelligence, working with the US military, emergency officials and state and local governments. 
          The law that is furthest along the pipeline is the Combatting Terrorism Act of 2001, an amendment to an appropriations bill that was passed by the Senate two days after the epochal events, without hearings and with minimal floor debate. That legislation, which may become ultimately part of an integrated package of laws put forward earlier this week by the Attorney General, has many provisions, the most controversial of which is section 832, which seeks to improve the government's ability to capture information related to a suspect's activities in cyberspace. While some among us may not object to surrendering our encryption keys, it is doubtful that the terrorists will be so obliging. The most likely result will be the loss by corporations and trustworthy individuals of their ability to protect sensitive corporate and personal communications from competitors, international spies, and overcurious voyeurs.  
          After reading the above, one may conclude that the US government is no longer willing to proceed with its encroachments either gradually or silently. Will Canada be far behind? 
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