Friday Fright Night
I was going to try to write a slightly funny, moderately informative post for today. Not another dark, downer of a diatribe. Perhaps something about why the UK seems to be amassing a silver hoard that is twice the size of all silver held in the SLV trust, or coping mechanisms of societies in other parts of the world before and during times of economic hardship.
“What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.
Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door. […]
They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search. They walked around the living room, studied the books on the shelf […], looked at all our pictures, glanced into our bedroom, pet our dogs. They asked if they could go in my son’s bedroom but when my husband said my son was sleeping in there, they let it be. […]
By this point they had realized they were not dealing with [trrrrrrsts]. They asked my husband about his work, his visits to South Korea and China. The tone was conversational.
They never asked to see the computers on which the searches were done. They never opened a drawer or a cabinet. They left two rooms unsearched. I guess we didn’t fit the exact profile they were looking for so they were just going through the motions.
They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing.”
In later clarification, the Suffolk County PD in Yaphank, NY issued a statement:
“Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.”
So THAT’S supposed to make it all right? Here are my issues with this picture:
- The author’s husband was released (presumably fired) in April 2013 from the employer who ultimately reported the ‘suspicious’ searches. The alleged web searches had to have taken place before that date (and presumably after Marathon Day).
- The employer seems to have waited ca. 3 MONTHS to contact authorities (this is conjecture, but based on the fact that 6 plainclothes detectives were dispatched, appears likely that the PD acted immediately and forcefully on the info). Patriotic concern? Employee contract/labor dispute?
- The family in question allowed authorities access to search their home, yet despite this permission only a cursory scan was conducted. So what was the point of the visit?
- ‘they do this about 100 times a week’
This is a relatively benign case, with an ultimately ‘harmless’ outcome of a frightened blogger, and an IT worker with a more ingrained understanding of the lack of privacy of using a workplace computer. No harm, no foul, right?
Some hypothetical/rhetorical questions:
- WHAT IF the husband in question had denied the detectives access?
- WHAT IF there had been a cooking implement of the sort in question sitting on the stove?
- WHAT IF the inquisitive lawmen had found firearms in the home?
- If similar ‘visits’ are carried out 100x per week, that equals about 20x per weekday. Let’s say it only takes an hour to do each one, and on average only 2 officers are sent. That’s still 4-6 full-time, year-round jobs doing nothing else, just for this county of 1.5M people.
- Computer logs are ‘relatively’ tangible things, though of course are not infallible or immune to manipulation by malicious parties. What would have happened if a neighbor or co-worker had phoned in a tip (anonymous or otherwise) that he/she had overheard someone talking in an agitated manner about said cooking implement and high-speed/high-pressure oxidation processes?
Look, I realize that there are plenty of arguments to counter ANY concerned/worried/alarmist position. There is no definitive proof that the BoE leased/sold large amounts of gold into the market, thus any suppositions to that effect are off-the-wall loony. There are no court convictions involving the senior management of TBTF institutions, so the idea that they did/are doing anything illegal is baseless libel. There have been no criminal charges brought against high- or even mid-level law-enforcement officials, so there is NO reason to think any of them (let alone the entire establishment) might be infringing on laws. No war crimes tribunals, hence no war crimes. Individual, anecdotal cases of overreach, abuse of force, mistaken identities, negligence are supposedly just that – individual cases. Like the IRS made some ‘regrettable, individual mistakes’ in targeting specific groups and people. Like the DoJ seems to have suffered from an unfortunate string of ‘individual’ lapses in judgment regarding a wide and unconnected range of issues, from Mexican trafficking to investigation of journalists.
When I was younger, I never bothered to think too much about whether my country was ‘free’ (it most assuredly was not). The denial of free speech and all the other rights taken for granted in the US affected me only tangentially – and as I was growing up and became aware of these distinctions, the dictatorial regime melted away into irrelevance, and was replaced by supposedly democratic, free institutions. The era of ‘hope and change’ that apparently all societies are periodically susceptible to. After a few years, it became apparent that what had happened was not so much a liberation, as a re-labeling. The old thieves got new coats of paint, and the new thieves were bought off with the remaining (meager) wealth of the nation. Pretty soon, this new amalgamated group of people above the law began to fight among themselves, and to explicitly reinstate the arbitrary (extra)legal mechanisms of old.
The day I finally realized that any hope of a just, representative, honest society was gone happened on a bright, sunny July morning a few years ago. I was (ironically enough) on my way to an appointment at a fearsome and powerful governmental bureaucracy, around 7 AM. As I stepped out of my apartment into the balcony of the inner courtyard up on the top floor (I always hated the Panopticon-like effect of these buildings), I see something like this:
Now imagine, in the place of that red-topped cupboard, there stands a man in faded jeans, black T-shirt and ski mask. A sidearm strapped to one thigh, another in his hand pointed at a row of 3 people who are kneeling, facing the wall, with their hands clasped behind their necks, where the broom is standing. One is in underwear, one in pajamas, one in sweatpants. Another ‘gentleman’ in a black ski mask has a yellow T-shirt, brown cargo pants, a weapon in hand and is standing guard at the door of the apartment in the corner, which is open.
No identifying markings, no badges, not even an excess of (para)military equipment/gear/clothing that might put my mind more at ease that this is a police raid. For all I know, it could be a loan-shark collecting on a debt. Or a hit. Or a gang attempting to forcefully rob the owners/tenants of valuables – or even of their apartment.
By a quirk of fate, my exit to the gangway is silent and rapid enough that none of them look up. I slink away to the far end of the hallway, slip down the stairs and out to the street, frantically trying to think -- what to do? Did they see me, will they follow? If they are cops, why so few and without insignia? If they are NOT, I can’t stick around, but I don’t want to leave the residents to their fate – what if the real cops get there too late?
In the end I call the precinct from a payphone a few blocks away. Give the address, describe the situation, note the presence of arms and people being held against their will at the point of a barrel, ask if any raids were underway. The dispatcher says no, they are not aware of any police activity in the area at the moment, but they will look into it. No questions are asked. Nobody presses me further about details. Though it was a while ago and I am not sure I remember correctly, I think no one even asked for my name.
As far as I know, no other resident of the building (with around 60-70 apartments, half of which looked directly onto this scene) called the cops. By the time I got back from the bowels of the bureaucracy, having proven my non-offensive, law-abiding, useful tax-paying nature, all was well. Residents were bustling to and from work, and old lady was sweeping the courtyard, someone was taking a dog for a walk.
This is how it starts, how it has always started. And in almost every case in recent history (the last century or so) it is always LEGAL. The actions of the Schutzstaffel, Geheime Staatspolizei and later the Staatssicherheit, the Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya, those of the Securitate and the Mukhabarat – the list goes on. The powers and authority granted to security forces, representatives of the justice system (whether prosecutors or the courts themselves) are all eminently, collectively (and sometimes retroactively) enshrined in law or reasonable facsimiles thereof.
How long, before domestic cultivation of food-plants becomes a restricted activity, requiring government permission and subject to criminal prosecution? Ownership of projectile implements containing cylindrical inserts that originally worked with charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter (though now have more smoke-less components)? The willful dissemination of information deemed to be aimed at disrupting governmental policy? Where are we currently along these continua? What constitutes a ‘red line’?
And societies will take a LOT of this before realizing its inherently destructive effect on its members, wealth, liberty and freedom. As long as it’s SOMEONE ELSE being taken away, it’s of no direct concern to me. Chances are they had it coming. Probably some low-life. Should have kept their head down.
And IF after years, or even decades of oppression, blatant injustice, state-sanctioned arbitrary incarceration/torture/murder a society IS able to rise up, and attempt to throw off the yokes of servitude? Perhaps momentary, symbolic gains are made. Perhaps a few guilty (but nevertheless merely symbolic) parties are brought to justice.
Perhaps after a revolution or uprising a society is given a few years to breathe, to rebuild, to try to start over. But the temptation to institute (and the tools to build) an authoritarian society are ever-present, only waiting to be picked up. And picked up they inevitably are, as the cycle begins anew.
History is written by the victors. “It could never happen HERE” is a thought shared by many societies across the centuries – even (perhaps ESPECIALLY) after it already had. It is up to everyone to keep an eye on just what temperature the thermostat is currently set to.
(image credit: DonkeyHotey)
It seems to me that incredibly hard though it is, it’s still a LOT easier to prevent the noose of tyranny from tightening, than it is to remove it once it has established its grip in full. To a large degree, this depends on the degree of legitimacy of the state, and the degree of helplessness of the people as perceived by the populace.