July 23, 2002 - Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Yes, a million tipsters might be wrong

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, August 05, 2002 - 12:53 am: Edit Post

Yes, a million tipsters might be wrong

Read and comment on this op-ed piece from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the Terrorist Information and Prevention System (TIPS), one of the sister organizations to the Peace Corps in the USA Freedom Corps at:

Yes, a million tipsters might be wrong*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Yes, a million tipsters might be wrong


Fort Worth Star-Telegram

OK, Tom Ridge, you say you want Americans to be watchful - that the goal of the government's proposed citizen reporting program is for people to be vigilant, not vigilantes.

As director of homeland security, are you gonna personally explain that to every utility worker, truck driver and cable installer who signs up for the national system of concerned workers "whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity?"

'Cause I'm a little worried about how zealously some of my fellow Americans may take their duty if and when they join Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), the civilian watchdog branch of the new USA Freedom Corps.

According to the Justice Department, the Freedom Corps' efforts center on recruiting Americans to the war on terrorism by serving their neighbors, their communities and their country.

How exactly does dropping the dime on other Americans qualify as service? Figuratively speaking, of course. The government plans to offer a toll-free hot line, so no change will be needed to make the call.

Under such circumstances, one does a quick mental accounting of what visitors to her abode might spot should they take a stroll through the premises. Items in plain view inside the Labbe household could raise the eyebrow of a repairman or a utility worker who doesn't share the residents' libertarian leanings. Had they walked through in the weeks after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, they might have been moved to report us as folk bearing closer scrutiny.

Subscriptions to gun magazines, how-to books on disassembling and reassembling numerous models of firearms. Copies of the U.S. Constitution and "The Second Amendment Primer."

Books that include titles such as "Lost Rights," "Jury Nullification," "The End of Privacy," "God's Name in Vain," "More Guns Less Crime," "Freedom in Chains," "Republic of Denial," "The Dissent of the Governed," "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and "The Unwanted Gaze."

Would a postal worker or the cable installer draw conclusions about whether we're a threat to society based on what's in our house or our mailbox?

Shoot, a copy of "The Turner Diaries" is floating around somewhere. We bought it - oh, the horror, at a gun show! - after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building. As a journalist, I was interested in what might have contributed to his twisted and deadly thinking. As a police officer, my husband shared that curiosity.

Yeah, we're guilty of being an amateur gunsmith and an avid reader of public policy books. Those aren't crimes in this country - at least not yet.

It's one thing to encourage workers who have high incidence of contact with the public to watch out for people who might need help. It's another situation entirely when workers are recruited to spy on their customers.

As a colleague of mine said last week, there's a big difference between protecting your neighbors and policing your neighbors.

The Justice Department's pilot program is planned for 10 cities. One million workers will be encouraged to phone in reports of unusual but non-emergency situations. Throughout the country, commercial vehicles will be plastered with stickers providing a toll-free number that will route calls to the "proper law enforcement agency or other responder organizations when appropriate."

Can you imagine the extent of the useless information that will pour in to that "hot line?" If Americans are to believe the declassified summary of a classified report issued by a subcommittee of the House's Permanent Committee on Intelligence, the feds don't have the staff needed to sift through the volumes of information they receive from bona fide sources. Wouldn't whatever amount of money that's earmarked for TIPS be better spent on helping them?

To its credit, the U.S. Postal Service said thanks but no thanks to the offer to participate. Bless 'em, postal workers have enough trouble with the public, what with the recent bump in the cost of a first-class stamp. This they don't need.

By week's end, it appeared as if Washington wasn't completely devoid of elected officials who see the danger here. The House Select Committee on Homeland Security crafted a bill that would prohibit any federal program that encourages people to spy on one another.

Folks, we are a brown shirt and a bad moustache away from a philosophical statement on how the government views citizens - as potential informants or potential enemies.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Speaking Out; Special Reports - TIPS



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