In a perfect melding of the Keystone Kops Meet O'Brien, Janet Napolitano is coming to a Walmart near you. Her video, urging "If You See Something, Say Something," is rolling out at W emporia all across the country:
The message will be continuously looped on TV monitors at the 588 Walmarts in the U.S. One can only imagine the hilarity that will ensue when one gun-buying customer doesn't like the looks of another. But then maybe Napolitano doesn't really know the People of Walmart that well, after all.
"Report suspicious activity to your local police or sheriff. If you need help, ask a Walmart manager for assistance.” Ah, yes, ask a manager for assistance! Next time you get in a tug-of-war with another customer over the last Game Boy in the store, just report that sucker to management for "suspicious activity."
And today's Washington Post has a long article on just how some of those materials and tools are working. Or not.
A few tidbits from WaPo's months-long investigation, which included nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents:
Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.
The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.
Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.
How much is all this costing? No one knows.
The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.
The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010.
But hey, baby, your tax dollars at work.
And what kinds of things are these fusion centers finding out?
In Virginia, the state's fusion center published a terrorism threat assessment in 2009 naming historically black colleges as potential hubs for terrorism.
From 2005 to 2007, the Maryland State Police went even further, infiltrating and labeling as terrorists local groups devoted to human rights, antiwar causes, and bike lanes.
The fusion centers and the Walmart campaign and the TSA theater are only part of DHS's exciting new programs designed to Keep You Safe. There's also, for example, the FAST initiative, which trains agents to be on the lookout for dilated pupils, flushed cheeks, and restless legs. All to gauge "physiological, involuntary signs of intent."
Cue Twilight Zone music.
Meanwhile, we can count on dependable representatives of security firms, such as former CIA director James Woolsey, to mount fear-mongering campaigns just in time for the holidays. As Naomi Klein pointed out in her book The Shock Doctrine, it's the perfect opportunity for opportunists to make money.
And as the WaPo article indicates, all this hoo-ha technology and neighbors-reporting-on-neighbors is likely to affect the poor and minorities the most, people often without the financial or emotional means to fight back. If their names somehow end up on a watch list for having engaged in "suspicious activity," well, tough luck.
With DHS in charge, what could possibly go wrong? Happy Holidays!