By Boris Volkhonsky
On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney-General Eric H. Holder Jr. made one more important step in his efforts aimed at openly demonstrating the nature of a totalitarian police state the U.S. has been turning into for years.
As reported by The Washington Post, Mr. Holder approved new guidelines that allow counterterrorism officials to lengthen the period of time they retain information about U.S. residents, even if they have no known connections to terrorism. The changes allow the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the intelligence community’s clearinghouse for terrorism data, to keep information for up to five years. Previously, the center was required to promptly destroy – generally within 180 days – any information about U.S. citizens or residents unless a connection to terrorism was evident.
The old guidelines were “very limiting,” said Robert S. Litt, the general counsel in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “On Day One, you may look at something and think that it has nothing to do with terrorism. Then six months later, all of a sudden, it becomes relevant.”
The guidelines have prompted concern from civil liberties advocates. “Watering down those rules raises significant concerns that Americans are being targeted or swept up in these collection programs and can be harmed by continuing investigations for as long as these agencies hold their data,” said the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security policy counsel, Michael German.
In fact, it has been demonstrated on too many occasions that the U.S. “lawlessness and disorder” agencies care little about civil liberties and the notorious “human rights” the U.S. is ready to protect with all its military might in any country which is not eager to follow the Washington-set guidelines. Unlimited detention and torture of detainees in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, authorization of extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens abroad, equating people who simply exercise their rights granted by the First Amendment to terrorists, etc. are all well-known examples that hardly need any further elaboration.
Against such a background, simple interference in the Americans’ privacy and the humble objections posed by civil liberties advocates hardly matter much. What is privacy, when the Big Brother is watching you?
The U.S. lawlessness enforcement was quick in implementing the guidelines even before they were announced.
On Thursday, testifying before the House of Representative’s Homeland Security Committee, the New York Police Department’s director of intelligence analysis Mitchell Silber said that at least 13 suspects with ties to the Iranian government had been questioned by the authorities in the last seven years after conducting surveillance of possible attack sites.
The suspects, he said, included six people on a sightseeing cruise who were taking photographs and videos of well-known New York landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge in 2005.
This probably explains why the U.S. authorities decided to retain the information on people’s suspicious behavior for five years instead of 180 days. Now imagine that you are a tourist from a neutral country on a holiday visit to the U.S. You take a boat trip over the East River and take photos of all landmarks, including the Brooklyn Bridge.
This, according to Robert Litt, is “Day One” when “you look at something and think that it has nothing to do with terrorism.” But time passes, and the U.S. turns the one-time neutral state into its opponent. Then, following the above logic, “all of a sudden, it becomes relevant.”
In fact, before the recent turn in U.S. policies towards Iran, Tehran had never been accused of plotting any terrorist attacks anywhere. But the recent developments unearthed a lot of accusations (dubiously grounded) against Iran plotting to kill this or that ambassador, or planning to attack this or that ethnic community. So, the photos of the Brooklyn Bridge taken back in 2005 constitute significant evidence of malignant activity.
So, one should be very careful while trying to take pictures on a sightseeing trip. Who knows what comes to the minds of U.S. policemen in five years?
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies