Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Trump. So Trump is investigating Mueller. Can we play turnaround with law enforcement too?
According to federal government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, federal and local law enforcement agencies are using incredibly sneaky technology to track you as you drive the nation’s streets and highways. Their goal? Stealing your car.
This latest scandal — a mash-up of privacy violations on a wide NSA-like scale, corrupt asset forfeiture programs that make a mockery of the U.S. as a nation that respects private property rights, and brazen targeting of lawful gun owners — is a perfect political storm, an outrage that ought to bring liberals, libertarians and conservatives together in an alliance of freedom-loving people against an out-of-control government.
Given the collective shrug elicited by the Edward Snowden revelations, however, expecting a big reaction may be unrealistic.
In the shell of a nut: the ACLU has learned that the DEA and local police departments are scanning every motorist’s license plate as they drive down American streets. The NYPD and LAPD have each already collected hundreds of millions of time- and place-tagged license plate scans. One private security corporation sells its composite list of 2 billion scans to any police department or government agency that wants it. The Department of Homeland Security is teaming up with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to build and maintain a national database of license plate data to be shared with other parts of the U.S. security state apparatus.
Aggregated and analyzed, license plate tracking data forms a sophisticated model of your, and my, and everyone else’s habits, associations, shopping habits, friendships, and other activities. If you visit a porn store, they know — and their algorithms can predict when you’ll go again. But blackmail is not what’s on the cops’ minds…not for now, anyway.
They want your cash.
“Asset forfeiture” programs have become big business for law enforcement. Relying on dubious interpretations of the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, American police agencies are taking in billions of dollars a year from people they arrest. “Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing,” according to The Washington Post.
Total take: $5.3 billion.
If you think they’re confiscating the mounds of coke and machine guns they find in a drug kingpin’s trunk, think again. Pulled over for DUI? They take your car, sell it at auction and pocket the proceeds, or keep it for the cops’ own use. That’s on top of whatever jail time and fine the judge hands you if you get convicted.
Even if you’re found not guilty, they keep your car. And/or your cash. And/or jewelry. Anything valuable. Anything they want.
“No criminal charges are necessary for such seizures, and under federal and state laws, authorities may keep most or all seized assets even in the absence of formal charges. Countless innocent Americans have been victimized by what critics call legalized government theft,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” says the Post. “Police spent the seizure proceeds with little oversight, in some cases buying luxury cars, high-powered weapons and military-grade gear such as armored cars.”
Talk about un-American: these renegade robber-cops are traitors.
Police have been so pleased with the money and other goodies they nab through asset forfeiture programs that they send officers to seminars that teach them how to maximize their take. Some victims have complained, and successfully proven in court, that they were targeted and entrapped by police whose motivation to detain and arrest them was solely to steal their possessions — but it’s expensive and time-consuming.
Among the money-making schemes cooked up by greedy cops was a 2009 plan by the DEA to “work closely” with officials of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) “in attacking the guns going to [redacted by government censors] and the gun shows, to include programs/operation with LPRs [license plate readers] at the gun shows.”
But the DEA and ATF didn’t care about gun violence. “One internal email acknowledged that the tracking program’s primary purpose is civil asset forfeiture,” the Journal reports. They planned to set-up checkpoints around gun shows, search attendees’ cars using the pretext of a traffic stop, and arrest drivers on whatever charge they can come up with — some legit, others ginned up, in some cases no indictment at all — as an excuse to take their money and their cars. Which, even if they beat the rap, the cops get to keep.
Note to self: carry $5 in cash, use a debit card.
The UK Guardian reports: “According to DEA documents, the primary goal of the program was to seize cars, cash and other assets belonging to criminals. However, the [license plate reader] database’s expansion ‘throughout the United States,’ as one email put it, also widened law enforcers’ capacity for asset forfeiture.”
“It’s deeply concerning and creepy,” lawyer Clark Neily of the libertarian Institute for Justice told the newspaper. “We’re Americans. We drive a lot.”
It is also disgusting, cause for the immediate firing of every “law enforcement” official who has overseen an asset forfeiture program, and a perfect illustration of why only an idiot would trust the government.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Aggressive Drone Wars Set a Dangerous Precedent
There’s no denying it: we Americans, we have a lot of nerve.
We love to pick fights, but when someone punches back, man, the whining never stops. And boy, do we love to escalate. Nuclear weapons? We invented the suckers, used them not once but twice – the only country that ever has – the only anybody who ever has – yet we have the balls to slap economic sabotage on the Iranians and North Koreans and smear them as “rogue states” for even thinking about trying to get their own. Which these nations only want – irony alert – because they’re afraid of us.
You know the pattern. We escalate the arms race with some nifty new gadget devilishly designed to kill and maim more efficiently and effectively, then we deploy brute economic and military force (along with wildly hypocritical propaganda about how we’re nice and peaceful and the most trustworthy bunch around) to keep those fancy new weapons all to ourselves for as long as possible. Like cyber warfare. We started it.
The first major state-against-state – completely unprovoked – first strike in cyberspace was the Stuxnet virus unleashed against Iranian nuclear power facilities. A joint American-Israeli effort, it wasn’t enough for us to mess with the Iranians. We had to gloat.
Now it’s drones. Beginning in 2004 with George W. Bush, the drone warfare program against the peoples of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and God knows where else was greatly escalated by an Obama administration marketing itself as a regime ending two wars in public (though not really) while it secretly expands America’s military footprint.
And jokes about it.
Operating as usual in full-on bully mode, the U.S. blithely acts as though it’s entitled to the perpetual exclusive right to invade other nation’s sovereign airspace at will. Rather than assume the dignified posture of silence or the embarrassed sheep business of a kid who got caught in the cookie jar, Obama officials even had the gall to get all sassy and file a formal diplomatic protest after the Iranians shot at one of their spy Predators in November. In a different world, one where Iran had the world’s largest military and was the world’s undisputed number-one arms dealer, the Islamic Republic could have made a credible case under international law for war against the U.S.
In an ideal world – i.e., the kind of society people of goodwill work to create – these devices would be illegal under international law. Like landmines, drones do a lot more harm than good. You’d might as well declare the First Amendment dead and gone now that private corporations, the FBI, CIA, local police and just about anyone else can scan the crowds at antigovernment protests and identify demonstrators with facial recognition software. Who is going to dare to make a radical statement now? As it is, you can’t count on cops not to shoot unarmed African-American men. How many more innocent civilians are going to die due to the faulty judgment of a drone pilot miles away? As the first country to develop drone technology, the U.S. had the chance to keep this genie stuffed inside its bottle; instead, we let the monster loose and told it to run wild.
It doesn’t take a genius military strategist to worry about drone weapons proliferation. The technology is relatively simple and cheap, so cheap that soldiers occupying Afghanistan use throwaway six-pound mini-drones slightly larger than paper airplanes to see what’s around the next mountain.
The FAA is rushing to approve licenses to “tens of thousands of police, fire and other government agencies able to afford drones lighter than traditional aircraft and costing as little as $300,” reports The New York Times, including everything from “remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.” Police departments from Seattle to Gadsden, Alabama have already bought these creepy devices. And it’s now possible for a private citizen to buy his own drone for $300. A peeping Tom’s dream!
It was only a matter of time – not much time – before other countries followed suit. Which prompts two questions.
What’s to stop a hostile nation-state from attacking the United States with drones?
What if terrorists get drones?
Answer to the first question first: Nothing can stop a nation from Hellfiring us. While there are practical and economic barriers to entry that reduce nuclear proliferation, even the poorest nations can develop a scary drone program. Israel and its American ally claim to be terrified of the prospect of an Iranian nuclear attack against Tel Aviv, but the threat of a conventional weapons attack via drone is really what should be keeping policymakers up at night. Iran unveiled its Shahed 129 drone plane, a device that can fly 24 hours in a row, in September. That’s the one they plan to export. In September an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon successfully took pictures of Israeli military facilities.
The trouble isn’t just the drones themselves. It’s how the United States uses them: aggressively, prolifically, violently and with little concern for legal or diplomatic niceties. “Skip the drone debate, just kill the terrorists before they kill us,” reads the headline of a FoxNews piece by Erick Erickson, one of the Right’s most reliable cretins. But it’s not that simple. When the United States, the first nation to develop and deploy drones for surveillance and military attack purposes, asserts the right to “defend” itself by looking anywhere it wants and blowing up anyone it feels like, including its own citizens and people who have never expressed the slightest desire to attack the United States, it sets a precedent.
“More than 50 nations have or are trying to get [drone] technology,” notes The Times. “The United States will set the standard for them all.” Osama bin Laden said he wouldn’t have hesitated to use a nuke against the U.S. because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian targets. Using the same reasoning as the Obama administration, why wouldn’t the government of Yemen be legally justified to deploy Yemeni drones over American airspace and use them to blow up any Americans or anyone else they felt like?
We don’t hold back. Why should anybody else?
While a nation-state might feel constrained by the international community, its allies or domestic public opinion from attacking civilian targets in the United States, an underground resistance organization would be far less likely to refrain from using drones to make a political statement and/or wage remote-control guerrilla warfare. Even terrorist groups care about PR – but, like bin Laden, they could easily make the case that we have it coming.
Though some commentators – mainly and interestingly, liberals aligned with the Obama administration, which makes one wonder if they’d change sides after a GOP electoral sweep – pooh-pooh the terrorist drone threat, this is one time when the smoke rising from the ashes of buildings in an American city isn’t a remote (no pun intended) possibility created by a fevered theorist but rather an absolute certainty. It isn’t a matter of if we’ll get hit by drones. It’s a matter of when.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL