|Montreal, October 27, 2001 / No 91|
by Ralph Maddocks
In a recent issue of the Economist there was a quote to the effect that politicians come in two flavours, those who are incapable and those who are capable of anything. Events during the last few weeks have provided much evidence that the latter type is not in short supply.
In every newspaper, radio or television newscast our eyes and/or ears have been assaulted almost continuously with all the plans intended to be implemented by our elected officials, allegedly to increase airport, aircraft and general security. Some countries already possessed embryo anti-terrorist legislation and have rushed to implement it and others, like Canada, rushed to devise such legislation. Many politicians have grasped the opportunity to resurrect old and discredited proposals, thereby proving again the truth of the above adage.
Following the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, which killed six and injured 1,000, President Clinton promised that those responsible would be hunted down and punished. After the 1995 bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed five US. military personnel, Clinton again promised that those responsible would be hunted down and punished. After the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 and injured 200 US military personnel, Clinton promised yet again that those responsible would be hunted down and punished. After the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa, which killed 224 and injured 5,000, Clinton promised anew that those responsible would be hunted down and punished. After the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 and injured three US. sailors, Clinton once again promised that those responsible would be hunted down and punished. Perhaps if former President Clinton had kept his promises, most of the 7,000 people who died on September 11th would be alive today.
One question which was raised on a US radio phone-in show seemed, without casting stones, quite legitimate and pertinent. There are two men, both extremely wealthy. One develops relatively cheap software (albeit occasionally unreliable) and gives hundreds of millions of dollars to charity. The other sponsors terrorism. Why is it that the US government has spent more money chasing down Bill Gates over the past ten years than it has on Osama bin Laden and his cohorts?
The mass hysteria which has followed the World Trade Center attack has shown up in all kinds of polls in various countries, showing that the citizens are in favour of more restrictions on their already few freedoms. A Globe and Mail poll, published on October 8th last, suggested that 80% of us would accept ID cards but rejected other measures that would affect our privacy. In the USA a poll showed that 60% thought that the military – not news organizations – should exert more control over news of the war in Afghanistan. Half of them felt that U.S. news organizations should not show videotaped speeches by suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, while only four in ten said that they should show them.
At the same time, Canadian media coverage was suggesting the unleashing of Big Brother upon society by installing security cameras on street corners; issuing national identity cards and giving the police and other government agents the right to intercept phone calls, letters and e-mails at will. Similarly in the United Kingdom some 85% of those polled were in favour of ID cards.
The rush to slam the airport stable door firmly shut when the terrorist horse had bolted would have been amusing if not tragic. Large numbers of unproven security measures were introduced hastily with no apparent analysis having been made to support their effectiveness. Banning things remotely connected with cutting instruments is perhaps the best example of this woolly thinking. The terrorists are said to have used small knives or box cutters, ergo they must be banned. Perhaps an understandable, if knee jerk, reaction. To then continue to ban nail clippers, nail files, corkscrews, cigarette lighters, scissors (even small ones), tweezers, etc., indicates a lack of logical reasoning. "If you don't give me access to the pilot's cabin immediately I'll trim your toe nails!" Really!
The question that needs answering is just what is the real threat exactly? Is it to take control of the plane?
Requesting photo ID is perhaps the most useless of these newly imposed security measures. This solves no security problem that I can think of. The ease with which fake ID can be obtained would not confound a child, and presumably the hijackers of September 11th had some form of photo ID acceptable to airport authorities. At the height of the Cold War, passports – especially the Canadian one – were easy to obtain, and there has always been a thriving business in providing counterfeit ID of one kind or another. CBS once had a segment on its 60 Minutes programme when one of their reporters in Los Angeles was able to obtain all kinds of ID within a very short space of time. An organization able to plan and execute four simultaneous highjackings is very likely to have access to expert document forgers anyway. The requirement for this invasive and ineffective security measure is strangely secret; the FAA refuses to provide anyone with the written regulations even if asked.
Airlines are actually more stringent about ID than the FAA requires, because the "security" measure solves a business problem for them. Perhaps the real reason for this photo ID requirement is to prevent people from reselling tickets. Non-refundable tickets used to be offered regularly in the classified advertisements section of US newspapers. Adverts would read something like "Round trip, New York to Dallas, 11/28 – 12/30, male, $75." Because the airlines never checked ID but would notice gender, any man could buy that ticket and fly the route. Obviously, unless one goes to the trouble of forging ID and altering ones appearance this scheme will no longer work. The airlines are doubtless delighted by this, they solved one of their own problems, and may now blame the solution on the FAA security requirements.
An airline's main business objective is to get potential passengers to fly, not to make its planes difficult to hijack. Naturally, airlines would prefer that all their flights were perfectly safe, but actual highjackings and bombings are rare events as they are well aware. Security measures employed by airlines are thus designed mainly to give the appearance of good security. This is not to say that all airport security is useless, and that we would be better off doing nothing at all. Every security measure has benefits, but it also has costs in terms of money and inconvenience. As far as I know nobody has published any rational analysis of these costs and benefits so that we can get the most security for the resources that we have. Perhaps such matters are considered by our political masters to be too complicated and beyond the comprehension of the ordinary citizen and even of those we have elected to represent us.
At an estimated cost of $91-million, travellers at Canadian airports and border points will soon be having their fingerprints scanned by high-tech security gadgetry and their luggage scanned by equipment which can pinpoint a bomb in a piece of luggage. Canada introduced its own anti-terrorism measures, contained in a 171-page omnibus bill. All part of a multi-faceted $250-million federal plan, which granted new powers to tap communications, and gave the police the power to make "preventive arrests", all the while claiming that Canada is not a free and democratic society if its citizens live in fear. Chillingly, if not surprisingly, Justice Minister McLennan said "Keep in mind that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not suggest for a minute that any of the rights therein are absolute...'' Other innovations include compelling people to testify before a judge even though not charged with any offence ("We remove the right to silence," said one senior federal official.) and detaining those suspected of planning a terrorist act for up to 72 hours without charge. The whole providing an incentive for abuse by the less discriminating members of our forces of law and order.
The bill would create a stack of new Criminal Code offences, such as fundraising for terrorist groups, harbouring a terrorist and aiding or participating in the activities of a terrorist group; allowing for penalties of between 10 and 14 years in jail. According to Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress would be considered terrorists under this bill's definition, and the Kurds of Iraq, in their battle against Saddam Hussein's repression, would probably qualify too. He added, "I am hard-pressed to appreciate why all this has been considered necessary because I'm very aware of the considerable power that already exists." It would, for example, now be a crime to teach someone to fly a plane with the knowledge that it would facilitate a terrorist act. How this would be determined by the flight instructor was not indicated.
In addition, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act increases the capacity of the Communications Security Establishment, which collects signals intelligence, including fax, cell phone and Internet traffic. While at the moment, by law, the CSE can only listen in to communications outside Canada, the new bill would allow them to start listening in to discussions between someone in Canada and some foreigner. The partners in the Echelon surveillance system used to evade this law about spying on their own citizens by asking a partner to do it for them. All in the name of liberty of course, that is if you trust the government. As one lawyer said "the new measures threaten to turn Canada into a police state ... and to do so 'in the name of liberty' is bizarre."
The UK which already has a draconian Anti-terrorist Act of its own has been busy implementing its many provisions. The UK Home Office is asking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to keep records, for 12 months, of which websites their customers visit, what news group articles they read and who they e-mail. Also included in their demands are "measures to enable communication service providers to retain data generated in the course of their business, namely the records of calls made and other data – not the content". Home Office officials said the Government will work with the industry on a code of practice to take this forward, but privacy advocates fear the Government may yet make such log-keeping compulsory. They are also very concerned that, combined with the powers granted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the legislation will provide law enforcement agencies with a licence to snoop on activists at will.
The penalty for hoaxes such as sending a white powder through the post in the hope that it is taken for anthrax was increased despite the fact that no legislation was put before the UK Parliament, let alone having the matter debated there. Presumably, some legislation will be brought forward ultimately; it is hard to believe that this sort of thing can be done through secondary legislation such as Orders in Council. However, if the penalty was to take effect from 12 midnight of the day it was announced it means that the penalty is retrospective and will apply to offences committed before the Act is passed. Blair's contempt for both the law and Parliament increases daily.
David Blunkett, the UK Home Secretary, on a BBC programme indicated that he may well become more loathsome than his predecessor. His latest threat to civil liberties is a proposed supplement to the infamous laws against "racism" that would make "incitement to religious hatred" a criminal offence punishable by up to seven years in jail. In principle, any discussion about any religion, even in private, could become a "hate crime". This is one of a whole class of newly invented "crimes", all of them designed ostensibly to protect minorities from the majority. But in practice they all serve to increase the power of the state over all its subjects. He spoke of "calming the divisions within our society" and mentioned the rioting in the north of England this summer. Listening to him one would have thought that outsiders came in, sowed racial hatred and withdrew, leaving the poor inflamed Asian population to fight it out with police. He seems to think that this has gone unpunished because the race-hate laws have been used too timidly.
Perhaps, if he gets his way, each time an Asian youth throws a petrol bomb at a policeman a right-wing pamphleteer will get arrested in some wealthy suburb. Perchance each time someone in a religious argument in a pub becomes too excited, or disagrees that Zoroastrianism, Presbyterianism or Calvinism are religions of peace and love, they'll be liable to prosecution for incitement to religious hatred. Will it mean that henceforth the Monty Python film The Life of Brian is to be banned? The UK amendment about incitement to religious hatred has had a chilling effect on British comedians, one of whom (Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean) was moved to protest in a letter to the London Times.
That much vaunted Freedom of Speech cherished by all American citizens came under attack within hours of the events in New York. The host of the TV show Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher, was forced to grovel after sponsors exercised their right to freedom of speech and withdrew their support of the programme after Maher opined that the hijakers who crashed into the WTC building were not cowards, whatever else they may have been. That irascible and humourous commentator, the curmudgeonly Andy Rooney, commented on President Bush's speech wherein Bush had promised that the terrorists would find no safe harbour in Afghanistan. Pointing out the obvious, Rooney said that since Afghanistan is land locked the terrorists were hardly likely to find a safe harbour there. This resulted in CBS losing major sponsors and obliging Rooney to apologise the following week.
Several US professors,10 as of Thursday last, have been suspended for making "inappropriate" anti-war comments. One school's provost defended the administration's actions against a professor, claiming that, "Our position is that faculty members have certain responsibilities to their students. It's not a free speech issue, it's a professional issue".
The word racism appeared first in 1936, following racialism which was first recorded in 1907, and all citizens of all countries make jokes about those from other origins. Since time immemorial we have had ethnic and religious jokes, Irish, Polish and Jewish jokes, etc., and even jokes about those who dwell in a different (Newfie jokes come to mind) part of the same country. Today, in this multicultural world, all are serious crimes as far as the Inappropriately Directed Laughter police is concerned. Sixty years ago as schoolboys we sang lustily about our enemies' less admirable qualities, and about Adolf Hitler's anatomical imperfections, without been thrown into prison for our pains. This was considered to be morale raising in those days, a very short period of time ago during which political correctness seems to have replaced common sense.
I am mindful of the late H.L. Mencken whose statement often comes to mind in these days of the almost hourly reports of terrorist incidents. He said; "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence, clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary".
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