Assume the Position

Friday, July 26, 2002
Thinking of your blog as a journal is bad news says Heinrich Faust in this Twelfth Parsec entry:
. . . Journals might be poorly written or eloquent, but readers of journals expect the journal to represent the authors' writing at its most unmediated. This is not to say that journal writers don't engage in hide and seek games with posterity, and, more importantly, with themselves. It it to say, however, that people are much more likely to pop off in a locked journal, than they are in a published column.

And this is why thinking about blogs as journals is bad. Think of your blog as your journal, and you are casting an illusion of privacy over something which is in fact available to people all over the world. It may be just you, your computer, and your cat sitting on top of it, but not the moment you hit publish and the guy on Bangladesh Google hits search. And if you write your blog like you would write your journal, quickly and in large, sweeping strokes, you are likely to end up like Eric Alterman:

"I think I better apologize for the words “tough luck” at the end of yesterday’s entry. They are inappropriate in a situation where so many innocents, including children, were killed. When I wrote them, I was as yet unaware of the extent of the civilian damage caused by the Israeli missile attack."

Blogging presents the temptation of not checking facts. . .

Good reading, especially where he compares blogs to "eighteenth century broadside[s]."

Scott Koenig does good job distilling the idiocy leading to the labeling lawsuit against Whole Foods Market.

Thursday, July 25, 2002
Sasha Volokh thinks Jessie Rosenberg was "somewhat harsh" on the the Washington Post in his treatment of this Sytle section analysis of Moussaoui's court filings. Aside from the entire debate—how valid is applying some kind of postmodernish critical analysis to Moussaoui's papers in the first place?—Sasha has one remark that I dispute:
Not only is he less evil than those who actually killed people, he's also an interesting fellow.
He may be an interesting fellow, but if he was the 20th hijacker and only missed the flight because he'd already been arrested, then he is as evil as the other 19. Possibly moreso, because he knew and could have told what he knew, possibly preventing the Sep 11 attacks. Theodore Kaczynski was interesting, would he have been any less evil if the police had managed to defuse all of his bombs before they injured and killed people? runs the story of terrorists possibly receiving arms training at private security courses in America. MSNBC ran the story back in December. Better late than never, I guess. According to an accompanying story on MSNBC, Mark Yates (the operations and training director at Ground Zero USA) has always been a bit more into flashy promotion than most VIP security training outfits. (ABCNEWS link via Charles Johnson)

A clarification about my stance on TIPS. I don't automatically assume there are nefarious motives behind everything the government proposes. The impetus behind TIPS could have been innocuous or nefarious, and it's implementation could be harmless or disastrous. I chose to give the proposal the benefit of the doubt and present it in it's best light to press my case about the lopsidedness of the discussion coverage. My characterization of the program as "innocuous" could be dead wrong, but there was no discussion, just a one-sided bashing. Thus, I consider the program to have been unfairly trashed mostly because of the compressed timeline between the Washington Post editorial and the House Select Committee on Homeland Security's action, some six days of increasingly strident bashing before Dick Armey essentially killed it. Had serious questioning started after Bill Berkowitz's May article in The Progressive, the Administration might have had time to get it's act together and actually explain in some detail how they expected Operation TIPS to work. It's not that everybody "got it all wrong," but that nobody had enough information to get it right or wrong, so they all went racing off with the worst case scenario they could dream up (or channel from Ritt Goldstein).

I fully expect a proposal for an Operation TIPS-like program to return, albeit under a different name (which will quickly be dubbed TIPS-II in the press). But if the Administration learns anything from this, the proposal will be presented in a well defined package—detailing the aims, procedures, and safeguards of the program—one that can be rationally debated, rather than summarily dismissed after a week of hysteria.

UPDATE: Looks like the Administration is planning to do the explaining in the Senate before their bill is voted out of conference and goes to the joint committee to be reconciled with the House version. They may salvage it yet. (link via Scott Koenig)

UPDATE II: The Washington Post with more of Ashcroft's remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I'm not sure scrapping the central database is a good idea, unless he just means TIPS won't maintain a database of incomming reports; but after the reports are routed to the appropriate agencies, those that are verified will be forwarded to a central database elsewhere—otherwise there would still be no way for anyone to connect-the-dots.

Jeff Goldstein of protein wisdom really lays into this idiotic fast-food lawsuit. (link via DailyPundit)

A Nation of Spies and Informants? Why would the press and progressives believe that Operation TIPS would turn millions of Americans into spies and informants? I've written before that the concept, especially the comparison to the Stasi, is a disgusting insult to the American people. Why do they think the American public would behave in such a fashion? Could it be that many, if not most people, generally think other people are pretty much like themselves—we tend to judge the actions of characters in fiction and people in news reports by how we think we would act in their situations—and that many, if not most, newspeople and progressive activists are spies and informants at heart and therefore expect the rest of America's citizens to act that way if given the opportunity?

The use of undercover infiltrators with or without hidden cameras by news organizations is commonplace. The argument that news organizations are informing the public misses the mark when the news organizations' intent is to use their role to indirectly inform the government and then use their clout to force government action. The standard tactic is to send in their spy (either a reporter or just somebody they picked off the street), run the story about what their "investigation" found (informing the public and government) and then following-up with editorials demanding this or that government agency investigate and prosecute (using their clout).

Environmental, animal rights and civil rights activists do the same. And while their targets are often business (which supposedly justifies the technique) it can just as easily be your neighbor or you. Take Project Sentinel, a private, non-profit agency funded by Community Development Block Grants in California:

What does Project Sentinel do?

Project Sentinel provides fair housing (anti-discrimination) investigative and enforcement services . . . If you suspect discrimination . . .

Then call Project Sentinel. We will discuss your problem with you and counsel you on the fair housing laws. Project Sentinel can do the following things:

  • investigate your fair housing complaint (usually through paired testing), if appropriate
  • explain your options
  • negotiate with the owner or manager
  • inform the owner or manager of the law
  • refer you to a state or federal enforcement agency
  • refer you to a fair housing attorney for legal assistance
"Paired testing" is the process of sending two "testers" (black / white, male / female, straight / gay, parent / childless, etc.) to pose as potential renters. They then report (apparently in great detail) their experience to Project Sentinel. The reports may then be used against the landlord in civil administrative or criminal anti-discrimination actions brought about with or without the further assistance of Project Sentinel.

In short, and in the terms used by the anti-TIPSters, Project Sentinel "recruits informants" and sends them out as "spies" to "enter the homes of Americans" and "collect information without a proper search warrant, without a proper subpoena or court ordered warrant" in order to report to the "government." The press seems to take a favorable view of this activity without raising any alarm about the potential abuses ensnaring innocent Americans like this unfortunate woman. (Thanks to Eugene Volokh for making the file available.)

It should be no surprise that the press and activists who routinely "recruit spies and informants" would immediately apply their questionable standards of behavior to the American public at large and set off a frenzied blast of outrage over Operation TIPS.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Tripping over TIPS

Why did the Bush Administration, particularly the Department of Justice, stumble so badly after it was caught off guard by the Operation TIPS paranoia outburst? Four primary reasons: (1) As far as they were concerned it's an innocuous, little, low-cost program that wouldn't draw much, if any, fire. (2) They didn't promote it, instead they tried to use it to promote something else. (3) Nobody in or out of the government paid much attention to it. (4) Their plate was already too full to properly respond when the program came under a ferocious whirlwind attack from both sides—suddenly caught in that zone of whithering crossfire that occurs whenever progressives and libertarians both aim at the same target.

1. Operation TIPS is a rather innocuous program. Long before September 11 there were dozens (if not hundreds) of government and non-government (self-appointed) task forces looking at terrorism and how to defend against it. After the first WTC bombing in 1993, after the OKC federal building bombing, and definitely after Sep 11, one question kept popping up: How could the perpetrators have gone unnoticed long enough to carry out their schemes? The answer to that question has always been the same and has spawned or extended numerous careers on the conspiracy circuit: some people did notice some things. If you backtrack from the event with the luxury of already knowing what you're looking for, then numerous "suspicious" items or incidents involving the terrorists' preparations appear, sometimes even in notations in various files at different government agencies. For conspiracy theorists, who fervently believe the government is already an omniscient Big Brother, that means the government was either involved or allowed the attack to happen; the rest of the finger-pointers blame government incompetence for the failure to "connect-the-dots" even though the all the dots were grey and scattered among millions of other grey dots, only turning into red-flashing dots shouting "Connect me!" after an event.

There are no surprises in the observation that some people do notice the unusual, a subset of them may consider reporting what they have noticed, a small number of those will feel their concerns are important enough that they go to the trouble of reporting them to somebody in authority, and of those, a smaller number will successfully report their concerns to the right agency. Callers to the wrong agency may be directed to another wrong agency, or the official may take down the information and file-it-and-forget-it, or, in rare instances, they may be given the number of the right agency to call. This "who should I call and what's their number?" problem was so grave in emergency situations that the 911 program was created to solve it. Call one simple number and the trained operator will contact the appropriate agencies: fire, ambulance, police, or any combination depending on the nature of the emergency. That's fine for emergencies, but does nothing to solve the problem for less urgent matters.

Likewise, there is nothing surprising in the observation that people have questions about whether something they've noticed is significant enough to report or not. If your neighbors are on vacation and you see someone prying at their backdoor with a crowbar, thats obviously a 911 call. But if you get up in the morning and happen to notice that their backdoor is standing wide open, you can shrug it off, go investigate (possibly throwing suspicion on yourself if there has been a break-in), or call the police and let them investigate. How long do you watch newspapers pile up on your elderly neighbor's doorstep before you go over and check on her? If there's no answer but her car is in the driveway and you can hear the TV do you call somebody? The National Sheriffs' Association Neighborhood Watch Program has been around for years. It's basis is primarily that people are familiar with their immediate neighborhood, they know what's usual and what's out of place. One major thing the program does besides making sure people have a list of non-emergency numbers, is to inform people what kind of out of place events are significant enough that they might warrant investigation. Are the Jones' moving away or is that a band of thieves with a moving van? There are obvious give-aways if you think about it: the Jones' don't seem to be around, they didn't mention they were thinking of moving, no for-sale or for-rent sign in the yard, you wander over and one of the 'movers' tells you Harry said something about running to the store and would be back in a couple of minutes. That's suspicious enough to deserve reporting to the police, who might send a patrol around to ask the questions you can't reasonable ask; they'd also know if a theft ring with a moving van were working the region and, if so, would probably hurry to dispatch a patrol.

Where the Neighborhood Watch is primarily a crime prevention program, the Highway Watch is primarily a safety program funded through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The program first rolled out in Colorado in 1998. Highway Watch is a more involved program than the Neighborhood Watch, the participation is limited to drivers meeting certain standards, they receive training in what and how to report, and there is a special number set up to receive non-emergency reports of hazardous roadway conditions. Truckers are generally more aware of their exact location and more attuned to road conditions, both of which increase the usefulness of their reports. "Drivers will be trained to call one of two numbers when they see an incident on the highway: *9-1-1 for life-threatening emergencies, and a special number for Highway Watch members that will be answered by Jacor/AirWatch operators for other incidents. The latter calls will be transferred to the appropriate government agency, and the information broadcast over KOA radio and other broadcast outlets to alert all motorists."

Crime prevention and safety come together where terrorism is concerned because terrorists are the ultimate criminal safety hazard. Crime prevention and safety on the water has long been the US Coast Guard's dual rule, so the Coast Watch, Harbor Watch, and River Watch were to be expected. The USCG has always been the ones to call to report hazardous and criminal situations on the water, from speedboats encroaching on swimming areas to ships adrift to illegal dumping of oily bilge water. Their various Watch programs are little more than public awareness campaigns aimed at people who live or work around the water and are familiar with an area—keep an eye out and call one of six different numbers (USCG, FBI, Customs, Immigration, local police, or 911) depending on what you are reporting. They are particularly concerned with any suspicious activity around bridges, tunnels, power plants, water intakes, oil facilities, chemical facilities, fuel docks, and military bases.

There is nothing new or exciting about any of these programs, except Highway Watch's consolidated non-emergency phone number which allows the truck drivers to report something without first figuring out what agency in which jurisdiction is responsible for dealing with a particular hazard. These programs are innocuous and there is nothing inherently wrong with the government encouraging responsible citizenship. Of course, the standard complaints can always be expected from one corner: "'It sounds impossible to implement without profiling, particularly African Americans or Arab Americans,' said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU Michigan branch. 'I'm sure it's intended for the greater community involvement, but it's inevitable result is for us to take a step toward a Big Brother society.'" (Also, notice how the subhead of that article, "Volunteers wanted to patrol waterways of the Great Lakes," is intentionally wrong in order to make the program sound more active, and therefore more threatening, than it really is. The River Watch program makes no request for "volunteers" nor are there any "patrols." It isn't asking for people to join the Coast Guard Auxillary, it's just asking people who work on the waterways to call if they see something suspicious.)

Operation TIPS was just more of the same — a public awareness campaign coupled with a consolidated non-emergency phone number to take calls and direct the information to the appropriate place. It's easy to visualize how it came together in all the October - December 2001 task forces, consultations, solicited and unsolicited comments from industry, local and state governments, and individuals.

2. Operation TIPS fell victim to the President's State of the Union theme. Instead of plainly saying what Operation TIPS was supposed to do, the Administration described the program with overblown self-promotional numbers tied to the President's "volunteerism" theme. In doing so, they completely failed to mention one of the primary reasons for the program: infrastructure protection. What are the "places of particular interest" for Coast Watch? Bridges, tunnels, power plants, water intakes, oil facilities, chemical facilities, fuel docks, and military bases. All except the last are infrastructure. If you cut out the promotional excesses and look at what Operation TIPS was designed around, it becomes clear: "transportation workers, truckers . . . train conductors, ship captains . . .who have routines and are well positioned to recognize unusual events . . . will be able to call the 1-800 Hotline that can route calls immediately to law enforcement or a responder organization when appropriate." The key is people who have set routes that take them past important parts of the infrastructure so often that they can tell when something isn't quite right.

The original, complete list of workers includes "letter carriers" and "utility workers," and they require separate mention because their presence caused all the ruckus. As disappointing as it may sound, Operation TIPS is primarily interested in the letter carrier who brings you your mail insofar as her route also goes by the unattended pumping station five blocks past your home. She passes it six days a week and knows the only times she's ever seen the gate unlocked is when there's a Water Department truck parked there. The day she goes by and the gate is hanging open, or there's some unmarked van parked down there, is the day it will catch her attention and she should probably notify somebody. Utility workers are a different story. First, most of them are not meter readers. Second, the service workers' routines take them places where no one else goes, places that are soft targets for disruptive attacks like the underground utility tunnels or along the major powerline right-of-ways. Nobody much cares what's in the garbage can sitting next to your electric meter, but those four funny boxes attached to the legs of a high tension line support structure might be worth a second look.

Instead of saying something boring like the government was going to set up a consolidated hotline that workers whose jobs make them familiar with the areas around the nation's bridges, tunnels, power substations, water pumping stations, etc. can call to report suspicious activity, the President's speechwriters ended up describing the program. So, in the USA Freedom Corps Policy Book they described it in the best way to push the President's keynote of, "My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years -- 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime -- to the service of your neighbors and your nation. . . . If you aren't sure how to help, I've got a good place to start. To sustain and extend the best that has emerged in America, I invite you to join the new USA Freedom Corps," and the description of Operation TIPS wound up with phrases like "enlisting millions." Why, besides the Presidential PR effort, did the program get so badly misrepresented?

3. There was no one minding the store. Neighborhood Watch is championed by the National Sheriffs' Association; Highway Watch is championed by the American Trucking Associations; Coast, Harbor, and River Watch are the Coast Guard's programs; who's in charge of Operation TIPS? Anybody? Did anybody hear a single word out of Washington from somebody titled the Director or Head or Senior Manager of Operation TIPS? Nope. When the DOJ finally addressed the uproar, it was in a press release by Barbara Comstock, DOJ's Director of Public Affairs. She may be Ashcroft's prime spokesperson, but her statement gave no indication that it came from anybody actually involved with Operation TIPS. That's because Operation TIPS was still being developed and had no funding, no offices, and probably no champion. Of the two offices that sound like they should be the program's champion, neither seems to want anything to do with it. Both the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center and Commerce's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office are so fixated on cyber-attacks to critical infrastructure that they apparently left any concerns for physical attacks to somebody else. That somebody else is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or at least FEMA is supposed to be the federal coordinator for the Citizen's Corps which is the umbrella program that TIPS comes under. And FEMA blew it, likely because they are more concerned with the Community Emergency Response Teams which also fall under Citizen's Corp. Every one of FEMA's press releases between July 12th and today deal with disaster funds. They may or may not know how to react to a natural disaster, but they have never been good with public relations.

4. The Administration was too busy with other disasters to respond when the TIPS uproar hit. This one's a no brainer. There was no real champion to speak for the program. FEMA's busy with flood and wildfires. The DOJ was busy with Lindh's plea bargin and Moussaoui's farce. And Bush was busy with corporate accounting shenanigans and the resulting economic fallout, not to mention the slow progress(?) in Afghanistan. Since they never expected any trouble over TIPS, they were completely broadsided by the flurry of editorials condemning it and had no one in a position to properly speak for the program. Barbara Comstock's statement was basically "you're inventing things to complain about that aren't even there," but there was no one in the Administration to sit down with the press and explain what was there, or would have been there if they hadn't let speechifying get in the way back in January.

Finally, nobody had really complained about the program since it was originally announced in January along with the rest of Homeland Security and USA Freedom Corps. The Administration hadn't ever had to defend or explain the program. All was quiet until the House started working the Homeland Security legislation which included funding Operation TIPS. Then the storm hit and the Administration was totally unprepared for it. Some people might see that timing as suspicious, but I think it was just a fluke. The Washington Post probably ran across the $8 million funding line item, looked at the only thing they could easily find, which was the lame website, didn't call anybody (or couldn't find anybody knowledgeable to call), keyed in on four words, and wrote the editorial that asked a question the Administration tripped over and fumbled around trying to answer.

Monday, July 22, 2002
Zell Miller, Democratic junior Senator from Georgia, who has nearly single-handedly offset Jim Jeffords R-to-I-caucus-with-D switch in everything except returning the Senate majority to the Republicans, comes out in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution with a piece July 19th in support of TIPS as well as the rest of Bush's Homeland Security strategy. (His point on TIPS is one I was planning to post soon.)
The critics also don't like the president's plan for Operation TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System), in which American workers would serve as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement by reporting suspicious or terrorist-related activity. This would build on programs already in place: Highway Watch, River Watch, Coast Watch. And it is exactly what newspapers do on a daily basis by asking folks to call in with tips.

Operation TIPS would be for public places and transportation routes --- not private homes. The language of the program would ensure that no one's right to privacy is violated.

He's said, "I was born a Democrat and I will die a Democrat," but maybe the Republicans like having some staunch support on the other side of the aisle.

A grateful nod to Bill Quick at DailyPundit for the mention of the TIPS Chronology and a complimentary word or three: "darn good blog."

Spontaneous Combustion - A Chronology of the Operation TIPS Paranoia Outbreak

This will by no means be complete, just some background highlights filled out with some reasonable conjecture; besides, the events leading to the probable abandonment of Operation TIPS are still unfolding and something might happens during Senate reconciliation. (Any added emphasis in the quoted material will be in italic bold.)

During the initial recovery from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, people who couldn't directly help in NYC and DC filled the blood banks and donated millions of dollars. As we headed toward the end of the year, in spite of everything (the anthrax attacks, the military engagement in Afghanistan, new security procedures, investigations and recriminations, dot-com bomb, economic downturn, and further warnings of potential attacks), there remained a heightened level of patriotism. The government was busy, especially the military and law enforcement, but many everyday people felt a need to be involved in some way. The go-about-your-normal-business-but-keep-aware line got old real fast and the editorials were full of pleas to the President to "tell us what we can do to protect ourselves . . . to respond to attacks . . . to help protect the country . . . anything, so that we can feel like we're involved." And so, he did.

January 29, 2002 - President's State of the Union Address:

My call tonight is for every American to commit at least two years -- 4,000 hours over the rest of your lifetime -- to the service of your neighbors and your nation. (Applause.) Many are already serving, and I thank you. If you aren't sure how to help, I've got a good place to start. To sustain and extend the best that has emerged in America, I invite you to join the new USA Freedom Corps. The Freedom Corps will focus on three areas of need: responding in case of crisis at home; rebuilding our communities; and extending American compassion throughout the world.

One purpose of the USA Freedom Corps will be homeland security. America needs retired doctors and nurses who can be mobilized in major emergencies; volunteers to help police and fire departments; transportation and utility workers well-trained in spotting danger.

Around the same time in January, the USA Freedom Corps Policy Book was made available. The brief description is:
The USA Freedom Corps initially will have three major components:
  • A newly created Citizen Corps to engage citizens in homeland security: The new Citizen Corps will consist of Citizen Corps Councils. It will engage Americans in specific homeland security efforts in communities throughout the country. These initiatives include a Medical Reserve Corps, a Volunteers in Police Service Program, a doubling of Neighborhood Watch, a new Terrorist Information and Prevention System, and a tripling of Community Emergency Response Team members.
  • An improved and enhanced AmeriCorps and Senior Corps: The Administration will provide additional community-based service opportunities and will leverage hundreds of thousands of additional volunteers through 25,000 new AmeriCorps participants, 100,000 new Senior Corps participants, and removing barriers to service. The 25,000 new AmeriCorps participants will generate at least 75,000 additional volunteers.
  • A strengthened Peace Corps: The President’s plan will double the number of Peace Corps volunteers over the next 5 years, returning the number of volunteers to near its historic high, which was 15,000 in June of 1966.
Further into the policy book there is a one paragraph overview of Operation TIPS.
  • Operation TIPS: Terrorist Information and Prevention System: Operation TIPS will be a nationwide mechanism for reporting suspicious activity -- enlisting millions of American transportation workers, truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, and utility employees in the effort to prevent terrorism and crime. Operation TIPS, a project of the U.S. Department of Justice, will be initiated as a pilot program in ten cities in America. DOJ will establish a 1-800 Hotline for participants in Operation TIPS to report information. The Administration has requested $8 million for Fiscal Year 2003
  • And eventually there is the complete description
    Create Operation TIPS: Terrorist Information and Prevention System

    As part of the Citizen Corps, Operation TIPS -- the Terrorist Information and Prevention System -- will be a nationwide mechanism for reporting suspicious terrorist activity -- enlisting millions of American transportation workers, truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains and utility employees. Operation TIPS, a project of the U.S. Department of Justice, will start first as a pilot program in ten cities in America, affecting more than 1 million workers. Applications from cities will be accepted in Fall 2002 for inclusion as one of the pilot programs.

    Operation TIPS will establish a national reporting system that would allow these workers, who have routines and are well positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities. Every participant in this new program will be given a Citizen Corps: Operation TIPS information sticker that could be affixed to the cab of the vehicle or placed in some other public location so that the toll free reporting number would be readily available to report any suspicious activity.

    Everywhere in America a concerned worker will be able to call the 1-800 Hotline that can route calls immediately to law enforcement or a responder organization when appropriate. Importantly, this number will not supplant the existing 911 emergency system. Instead, it will take the stress off already burdened local systems needed for emergencies. The U.S. Department of Justice will provide $2 million in Fiscal Year 2003 to establish the hotline and assist with training and $6 million for the pilot programs and outreach materials.

    Operation TIPS builds on the success of programs such as Highway Watch, which is a crime prevention partnership among the American Trucking Association and six states, and security training at the Global Maritime and Transportation School, which includes enhancing the ability of mariners aboard American vessels in island waterways and the Great Lakes to track and record potential threats.

    So there we have the first description of Operation TIPS, from all the way back in January, 2002. This isn't a stealth program that popped up out of nowhere in the middle of July, 2002. Before we move down the timeline, there is something else under the Citizen Corps that we need to look at:
  • Double Neighborhood Watch Programs and Add a Terrorism Prevention Component: The Department of Justice will work with the Neighborhood Watch Program (NWP) to incorporate terrorism prevention into its mission. The goal would be to double the number of NWPs over the next two years. DOJ will make grant funding available to Neighborhood Watch for additional training and increased capacity through the National Sheriffs’ Association. The Administration has requested $6 million for Fiscal Year 2003 to support this initiative

    The Neighborhood Watch Program (NWP) will incorporate terrorism prevention into its routine mission and operate as a distribution mechanism for anti-terrorism information circulated by the Councils and other agencies. The goal is to double the number of NWPs over the next two years. In existence for 30 years, the NWP is a highly successful program that has played an important role in preventing crime. The National Sheriffs’ Association estimates that approximately 7,500 communities representing nearly 30 million people around the country participate in grassroots crime prevention under Neighborhood Watch. As the "eyes and ears" of local communities, the NWP is a unique infrastructure that brings together local law enforcement and citizens for the protection of communities.

    The Citizen Corps Councils will encourage the creation of NWPs in communities that do not have them and enhance the capacity and relevance of NWPs for those that do. The NWPs would receive materials from the Department of Justice, working in conjunction with the National Sheriffs’ Association, on how to incorporate the new focus. To ensure that existing NWPs are incorporated into these new efforts, Neighborhood Watch Program Coordinators or their designees will organize the efforts of the local NWPs and would be appointed to sit on the Citizen Corps Councils.

    DOJ will provide $6 million in Fiscal Year 2003 for the expanded Neighborhood Watch Program.

  • Neither TIPS nor expanding the NWP was kept secret.

    February 4, 2002 - A press release from USA Freedom Corps contains the following:

    * Doubling the current Neighborhood Watch Program to incorporate terrorism prevention into its mission. Oversight will be provided by the Justice Department.

    * A new Terrorist Information and Prevention System (Operation TIPS) for reporting suspicious activity nationwide. The program will enlist truckers, transportation workers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains and utility employees in an effort to prevent terrorism and crime. Operation TIPS will begin with a pilot program in 10 cities.

    May, 2002 - Bill Berkowitz, "a freelance writer covering rightwing movements . . . a regular contributor to Working Assets's news site,," has an article in The Progressive about both TIPS and NWP:
    With the familiar strains of "Heeeeere's Johnny" resounding throughout the auditorium, professional sidekick Ed McMahon introduced Attorney General John Ashcroft to an enthusiastic audience of representatives from more than 300 Neighborhood Watch groups meeting in Washington, D.C., in early March. Ashcroft was unveiling a new and expanded mission for the Neighborhood Watch Program.
    . . .
    This "could fuel Cold War-style discrimination and censorship," says the American Civil Liberties Union, which sees the Neighborhood Watch initiative as part of an "ongoing pattern of erosion of basic civil liberties in America in the name of unproven security measures."

    "By asking neighborhood groups to report on people who are 'unfamiliar' or who act in ways that are 'suspicious' or 'not normal,' our government is unconstructively fear-mongering, and fueling the already rampant ethnic and religious scapegoating," says ACLU President Nadine Strossen.
    . . .
    The new thrust of Neighborhood Watch is just part of the Bush Administration's plan to set up a whole network of citizen snitches. In August, for instance, it will unveil a new Justice Department initiative called Operation TIPS, which stands for Terrorist Information and Prevention System.

    [A familiar description of TIPS straight from the website.]

    A Justice Department spokeswoman says TIPS was developed by a working group made up of people from the Department of Justice and several other agencies. When asked about the identity of members of the working group, she says she is unable to disclose their names at this time, adding it is "too soon to speak to the people involved."

    TIPS will involve workers who, in the course of their daily activities, are well situated to be "extra eyes and ears" in the struggle against terrorism, she says. The mission is to "report suspicious activity and not to report suspicious-looking people."

    But that does not reassure Representative Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio. When I ask him about Operation TIPS and its one million snitches, he takes a deep breath.

    "It appears we are being transformed from an information society to an informant society," he says. "Do the math. One tip a day per person and within a year the whole country will be turned in, and we can put up a big fence around the country, and we'll all be safe."

    As the ranking Democrat on the Government Oversight Committee's National Security Oversight Subcommittee, Kucinich says he intends to look into the program as soon as possible. [Did he? -lp]
    . . .
    Given Operation TIPS's interest in having truckers double as informants, I asked the Justice Department spokesperson whether any unions were aware of, or involved in, developing the project. She said that to the best of her knowledge they weren't.

    So why aren't unions up to date one this new job duty? "That's a good question," says Chuck Mack, the West Region Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "We should approach new projects like TIPS with caution and great care," Mack says. "Too often, the devil is in the details."

    The ACLU echoes Mack's caution. "We have deep concerns," says Rachel King, legislative counsel for the ACLU, "about the way that particular groups are being encouraged to act as agents and spy on other groups."

    Operation TIPS and the new mission for Neighborhood Watch flow out of Bush's State of the Union speech, where he urged every American to commit 4,000 hours, or at least two years of their lives, to national service. By executive order, he established the USA Freedom Corps as the umbrella organization for this effort.
    . . .
    Operation TIPS and Neighborhood Watch are under a different section of Freedom Corps called Citizen Corps. The goal of Citizen Corps is "to engage citizens in homeland security," the handbook says. Citizen Corps Councils will be established in each community, and they will "include leaders from law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services, businesses, community-based institutions, schools, places of worship, health care institutions, public works, and other key sectors."

    In addition to a revamped Neighborhood Watch Program and Operation TIPS, the Citizen Corps consists of a Volunteers in Police Service Program, Medical Reserve Corps, and Community Emergency Response Teams. Citizen Corps "will be coordinated by FEMA," the web site says.

    Although he took the standard progressive, civil libertarian line that anything the government proposes in the war on terror besides surrender is automatically suspect, he actually researched the article and wrote it responsibly; citizen snitches / informants / spies, yes, but at least no Stasi, no husbands and wives filing reports on each other, and the Cold War only entering the picture in an ACLU reference to the "discrimination and censorship" of the MaCarthy era. Berkowitz gets an A for effort.

    January 29 - President's State of the Union, February - USA Freedom Corps press release, March - Ashcroft speaks to NWP national meeting in DC, May - Berkowitz article. Call it February through April (supposing that's when Berkowitz had to file to make the May issue of The Progressive), not too much expressed over TIPS or NWP, and things remained calm until just before the August "unveiling" of TIPS.

    July 14, 2002 - The Washington Post publishes the What Is Operation TIPS? article. From the URL, it apparently showed up on the web on July 12. I originally refered to this article as "cautious." But this article is the first, as far as I know, to fixate on two categories, letter carriers and utility workers, and decide that they were picked along with the rest of the transporters so they can enter people's homes to carry out illegal surveillance.

    But having the government recruit informants among letter carriers and utility workers -- people who enter the homes of Americans for reasons unrelated to law enforcement -- is an entirely different matter. Americans should not be subjecting themselves to law enforcement scrutiny merely by having cable lines installed, mail delivered or meters read. Police cannot routinely enter people's houses without either permission or a warrant. They should not be using utility workers to conduct surveillance they could not lawfully conduct themselves.
    The Washington Post doesn't get an A for effort, they get a C- because they say, "Apparently the only public information about the program, in fact, is on a government Web site," and then quote from the blurb at Citizen Corps' website (Google cached version, since the page is now changed). I suppose they filed the USA Freedom Corps Policy Book press release away somewhere and couldn't find it or didn't look for it. They did contact the government, though:
    A White House official told us that the program will be focused more on suspicious activities around neighborhoods than inside homes. And a Justice Department spokeswoman says that the program is still "in its early planning stages." The administration owes a fuller explanation before launch day.

    But, like Berkowitz, the Washington Post gets some credit for not introducing the Stasi, or any other Cold War Eastern European secret police agency.

    July 14, 2002 - The bombshell. Well, "bombshell" isn't the right word, a bombshell is normally some new, startling revelation -- a "smoking gun" -- this was more like dynamiting an outhouse. I originally called this one "slightly hysterical," and compared to the later pieces that was a prescient description, because the scattered scat from the exploding privy impacted fans everywhere over the next few days and really started to reek of paranoia. I am, of course, referring to Ritt Goldstein's, US planning to recruit one in 24 Americans as citizen spies in the Sydney Morning Herald (Although dated the 15th, the URL shows it hit the web on the 14th):

    The Bush Administration aims to recruit millions of United States citizens as domestic informants in a program likely to alarm civil liberties groups.
    I did not to talk to anyone from any civil liberties group, but I'll make sure all they raise a hue and cry after this gets published.
    The Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or TIPS, means the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than the former East Germany through the infamous Stasi secret police. The program would use a minimum of 4 per cent of Americans to report "suspicious activity".
    Ah, the Stasi. From this point on, it seems half the hand-wringing articles written about TIPS spent a good portion their length detailing the abuses of the Stasi before the fall of the Berlin wall. All those editorial writers, and none, so far as I have found, mentioned the Bulgarian, Romanian, or even Soviet secret police. Just "the Stasi" this and "East Germany" that. I wonder why that happened? All of them reading this same gospel and taking it as fact?
    Civil liberties groups have already warned that, with the passage earlier this year of the Patriot Act, there is potential for abusive, large-scale investigations of US citizens.

    As with the Patriot Act, TIPS is being pursued as part of the so-called war against terrorism. It is a Department of Justice project.

    Highlighting the scope of the surveillance network, TIPS volunteers are being recruited primarily from among those whose work provides access to homes, businesses or transport systems. Letter carriers, utility employees, truck drivers and train conductors are among those named as targeted recruits.

    Goldstein decides to go one better than The Washington Post, the "targeted recruits" are also picked because they have "access to businesses." Now he can shake all the editors up with the implied question: Do you really want the guy who delivers the bottled water to your editorial office snooping for the Feds?
    A pilot program, described on the government Web site, is scheduled to start next month in 10 cities, with 1 million informants participating in the first stage. Assuming the program is initiated in the 10 largest US cities, that will be 1 million informants for a total population of almost 24 million, or one in 24 people.
    Loose terminology (standard PR speak) leads to bad math. In this case there are two reasons, neither of which are Goldstein's fault other than that he played on them to dramatically raise the fear level. (This was a news story, not an editorial.)

    First, when talking and writing about "cities," people are usually referring to metropolitan areas: "The general concept of an MA is that of a core area containing a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core . . . The collective term 'metropolitan area' (MA) became effective in 1990. MAs include metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), consolidated metropolitan statistical areas (CMSAs), and primary metropolitan statistical areas (PMSAs)." When people talk about Los Angeles, especially if they are anywhere outside of Orange County, CA, they rarely mean just the area within the official city limits, instead they are usually referring to the entire LA basin.

    It's just easier to say TIPS "will begin as a pilot program in 10 cities," rather than '10 metropolitan areas;' and saying '10 metropolitan statistical areas' would confuse nearly everybody, while saying '10 urban areas' would have everybody jump to the conclusion the program was targeted at the inner-cities. But, there is no way that the rollout of TIPS would be limited to only those businesses within the incorporated boundaries of any 10 cities. Even if it was a local initiative of the city government, rather than federal, limited to businesses in the incorporated area, the so-called "informants" are employees of the business who may commute from the surrounding area. Using just the population of the cities to derive the ratio is invalid. Table 1 shows the population numbers for the 10 largest incorporated (city limits) areas, PMSAs and CMSAs. The 1 million "informants" in the 10 largest "cities" would most likely come from the population of the 10 largest PMSAs (1 in 56) or CMSAs (1 in 89). Those numbers range from less than a half (1.8%) to just over a quarter (1.1%) of Goldstein's 4% figure.

    Top 10 City Limits Population23,899,236Top 10 Primary MSA Population55,930,448Top 10 Consolidated MSA Population88,733,845
    New York, NY8,008,278Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA9,519,338New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-CT-PA21,199,865
    Los Angeles, CA3,694,820New York, NY9,314,235Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, CA16,373,645
    Chicago, IL2,896,016Chicago, IL8,272,768Chicago-Gary-Kenosha, IL-IN-WI9,157,540
    Houston, TX1,953,631Philadelphia, PA-NJ5,100,931Washington-Baltimore, DC-MD-VA-WV7,608,070
    Philadelphia, PA1,517,550Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV4,923,153San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA7,039,362
    Phoenix, AZ1,321,045Detroit, MI4,441,551Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City, PA-NJ-DE-MD6,188,463
    San Diego, CA1,223,400Houston, TX4,177,646Boston-Worcester-Lawrence, MA-NH-ME-CT5,819,100
    Dallas, TX1,188,580Dallas, TX3,519,176Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint, MI5,456,428
    San Antonio, TX1,144,646Boston, MA-NH3,406,829Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 5,221,801
    Detroit, MI951,270Riverside-San Bernardino, CA3,254,821Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, TX4,669,571
    Source: and US Census Bureau Census 2000 Ranking Tables for Incorporated PlacesUS Census Bureau Summary File 2 (SF 2) US 2000 Profiles of General Demographic Characteristics: U.S., Regions, Division, Metropolitan Areas, American Indian Areas/Alaska Native Areas/Hawaiian Home Lands, States, Congressional Districts (106th Congress): pdf file (8.4M) or zipped cvs file (no row titles) (316k).

    Table 1

    Second, and most importantly, the "1 million" is a throwaway figure— nice, round, impressive — but meaningless other than as a euphemism for "a lot." It has to be, because in addition to being too pat, it's impossible in any practical sense. Table 2 shows that there are only about 4.5 million production workers in the targeted industries in the entire US -- they make up only about 1.56% of the US population (287.6 million). No matter what area you define as a "city," you can't get 1 in 24 (4%) even if you are able to "recruit" 100% of the area's targeted workers as "informants." If you use the incorporated population, then there are only about 375,000 production workers in the targeted industries and many of them are not are route workers, i.e. "who have routines and are well positioned to recognize unusual events."

    Industry Total (millions)4.429Source
    US postal workers (note 1)0.8USPS
    Transportation and warehousing (note 2, 3)1.612BLS
    Local and interurban passenger transit (note 2, 3)1.612BLS
    Telephone communications, except radio (note 2)0.6909BLS
    Cable and other pay television services (note 2)0.1879BLS
    Electric, gas, and sanitary services (note 2)0.670.5BLS
    Notes: (1) US Postal Service general figure from their website. (2) Bureau of Labor Statistics for May, 2002, Production Workers, Not Seasonally Adjusted. (3) The Bureau of Transportation Statistics provides 1999 data for employment by transportation occupation, this includes people who do not work in the transportation industries (e.g., a truck driver for any firm in any industry, postal, utility, construction etc.). That figure is 4.462 million for all road, rail and water transporters (Excluded: the 0.167 million in airplane pilots, navigators and air traffic controllers from the 4.629 million total).

    Table 2

    Why did the government described it as "involving 1 million workers in the pilot stage," besides 1 million being such an nice number? It becomes an easy guess when you consider the funding: DOJ funds $2 million to establish the hotline and assist with training and $6 million for the pilot programs and outreach materials. "How many program instruction pamphlets and stickers with the Operation TIPS hotline number will we need for a city? Oh, budget for 100,000 of each for each city. How many places should we run the pilot program? I don't know, 5 or 10 sounds good, let's go with 10." 10 cities, 100,000 stickers each = 1 million "informants."

    An additional way of arriving at the overblown self-promotional numbers reflects the habit of counting everybody in the group when only some are involved. A business with 500 production workers might have 10 trucks and 20 drivers, but if those 10 trucks had Operation TIPS stickers on the dash, then the program officials would count that as 500 workers added to the program.

    Since the numbers are so way out of line, the headline and Goldstein's "the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than the former East Germany through the infamous Stasi secret police. The program would use a minimum of 4 per cent of Americans to report 'suspicious activity'," is wrong. Besides, estimates for the number of Stasi informants run from as high as 15% — "Koehler's estimate of East Germany's oppressor-to-oppressed ratio is impressive: one secret policeman for every 166 citizens, or one in 66 [1.5%]when citizen-informers are counted. When part-time informers are added, the result is 'one informer per 6.5 citizens [15%].'" — to lower figures of 1 - 2.5% based on 89,000 - 90,000 Stasi police, 170,000 - 175,000 - 300,000 [1.5%] code-named informants or 400,000 active participants out of population of 16 - 17 million people.

    At maximum, if every one of the 4.5 million applicable US workers received Operation Tips sticker you might say 1.6% of the population had been recruited and that is about the same percentage the Stasi had as informants (if you use the lower figures for the Stasi). But it's still an awful comparison considering how the Stasi recruited and the information they were after ("You will keep us informed of your brother-in-law's activities or visit the damp room with a battery charger.") versus the TIPS no-threat, no-reward, "give us a call if you spot something" program.

    Historically, informant systems have been the tools of non-democratic states. According to a 1992 report by Harvard University's Project on Justice, the accuracy of informant reports is problematic, with some informants having embellished the truth, and others suspected of having fabricated their reports.

    Present Justice Department procedures mean that informant reports will enter databases for future reference and/or action. The information will then be broadly available within the department, related agencies and local police forces. The targeted individual will remain unaware of the existence of the report and of its contents.

    The Patriot Act already provides for a person's home to be searched without that person being informed that a search was ever performed, or of any surveillance devices that were implanted.

    At state and local levels the TIPS program will be co-ordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was given sweeping new powers, including internment, as part of the Reagan Administration's national security initiatives. Many key figures of the Reagan era are part of the Bush Administration.

    The creation of a US "shadow government", operating in secret, was another Reagan national security initiative.

    Goldstein finishes out with the obligatory swipe at the Reagan Administration. Basically a standard left-wing rant passed off as a news article by an American who ran to Sweden in 1997 expecting automatic political asylum, didn't get it and went into hiding and continued his efforts. (He pissed off some Connecticut cops with his "civilian oversight" plans, was harassed to a greater or lesser extent, and fled to Sweden. You can probably imagine what his reform plans were like considering his decision to seek political asylum in Europe and fighting the rejection all the way to the European Court of Justice.) He got some measure of revenge on the US on the 14th. Googling him (as a phrase with the correct spelling) gives about 151 hits, almost all of them about that article. It daypopped a108 by the 17th.

    July 15, 2002 - The privy had exploded and the sticky-stuff was everywhere, bloggers, pundits, columnists, editors were all picking off their desks and flinging it somewhere else, in many cases trying to out exaggerate each other's sense of outrage. Beside's the press articles I've already blogged about here, here, here and here there were plenty more out there.

    July 16, 2002 The heat is on and DOJ releases a statement:

    TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2002
    (202) 514-2007
    TDD (202) 514-1888


    "First and foremost, Operation TIPS is a program under development, and its blueprint is not yet finalized. The Operation TIPS reporting system was announced in concept six months ago, and we look forward to its rollout in the late summer or early fall.

    "Operation TIPS is simply a reporting system - not a membership organization or recruiting activity - based upon successful existing non-governmental programs like Highway Watch, River Watch and Coast Watch, which enable American workers to report unusual and non-emergency issues that they observe in the normal course of their work. Several of these industries have requested a uniform method of reporting such matters to public authorities.

    "The industries that will be involved in Operation TIPS represent workers who have regular routines that take them down roads, rivers, coastlines, and public transit routes, and through neighborhoods and communities. Their jobs make them uniquely well positioned to understand the ordinary course of business in the area they serve, and to identify things that are out of the ordinary. Many of these industries already have taken steps to offer their employees a voluntary way to report this type of information, but they are looking to the Department of Justice to offer a comprehensive, reliable and cost-effective voluntary reporting system. Operation TIPS is that voluntary reporting system through which information can be maintained and analyzed in a single database, and will be referred to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies for appropriate follow-up.

    "None of the Operation TIPS materials published on the web or elsewhere have made reference to entry or access to the homes of individuals; nor has it ever been the intention of the Department of Justice, or any other agency, to set up such a program. Our interest in establishing the Operation TIPS program is to allow American workers to share information they receive in the regular course of their jobs in public places and areas. Once they report the information, they can rest assured that law enforcement officials will be taking any appropriate next steps."

    July 17, 2002 - Postal Service is out.

    July 18, 2002 - Postal Service is bank in.

    Sussman's Your neighbor is watching runs in the San Francisco Chronicle. It includes the now standard:

    In recent decades, we have all read about similar government-organized networks of citizen-snoops. They are common tools of secret police in nations usually characterized as "totalitarian" -- places like the Soviet-era East Germany.
    And the House Select Committee kills TIPS and GOP Security Bill Would Ban ID Cards
    The fine print of the 216-page bill creating a new Homeland Security Department, sponsored by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, also would scrap a Bush administration program that critics say encourages Americans to spy on each other . . .The bill also includes language that would prohibit programs such as the Justice Department Operation TIPS. Supporters say the initiative is aimed at encouraging people with certain jobs — those that take them into neighborhoods, along coasts and on public transit — to watch for suspicious activity.
    The six days from the Washington Post's "What is Operation TIPS?" were filled with little but knock-offs of Ritt Goldstein's Stasi comparison and the ACLU's "government-sanctioned Peeping Toms" searching "people’s residences without a warrant." (Maybe all the Toms in the country will file a civil rights suit against ACLU legislative counsel Rachel King for her despicably outrageous slander and the ACLU for their press release not even having the decency to capitalize the name.)

    Remember truckers, if you're rolling along at 3:00AM and you see somebody wiring explosives to an overpass, reporting it to anyone makes you a spy and informant, no better than a Communist East German Stasi agent. But if you're willing to have the entire editorial power of the country come down on your case and want to report it to somebody, good luck, because the government isn't going to ever print the Operation TIPS pamphlet that tells you not to get on the CB and call for Smokey cause you might tip the bad guys or set the explosives off, and they're not gonna give you an easy telephone number to call. So my advice, based on all these sound editorial pronouncements and press releases would be to just keep your eyes on the road and consider the potential pile of rubble and twisted steel that may wind up there the next day to just be the work of people engaging their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression with a bit of performance art timed for rush hour.

    And while the civil libertarians have apparently managed to save us from the horror of 1 million or 4.5 million "citizen-spies" including the meter readers and letter carriers that the government would get "to search people’s residences without a warrant," nary a peep since Berkowitz in May on the fact that the same USA Freedom Corps proposals in the Homeland Security Act have DOJ funding $6 million to expand the Neighborhood Watch Program from 30 million to 60 million people and "incorporate terrorism prevention into its mission." And while the current 30 million and projected 60 million are most likely overblown self-promotional numbers that count everybody in a posted neighborhood as being active in the program, the people who are active don't always hang around their neighborhood, do they? Why, you might even know some of them, maybe even be friends with some of them and invite them over to your home. Best sweep them for transmitters and think twice before you let anyone who lives in a Neighborhood Watch area into your home because, according to all these editorials they fit the description of "government-sanctioned, recruited informants" who will be "rummaging around [y]our private residences only to file a report with the Justice Department about anything they deem questionable."

    But hey, the Washington Post didn't mention the NWP in their piece, so Ritt Goldstein didn't know anything about them for the trash he dashed off, and so nobody else did either.
    One paper of record + one crank = one dead program in six days.

    Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.