By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Think the National Security Agency is doing enough snooping in “The Homeland?” A federal spying coalition aims to drill deeper under the Orwellian title, Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee.
“Call it massive surveillance of the U.S. population,” said John Whitehead, president of the civil libertarian Rutherford Institute.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder soft-pedaled DTEC earlier this month.
He said the committee — whose members are not yet known — would “coordinate closely with U.S. attorneys and other key public safety officials across the country to promote information-sharing and ensure an effective, responsive and organized joint effort.”
Whitehead and other skeptics are not assuaged.
“This is a government exercise to chill free speech and further nationalize the police force,” Whitehead told Watchdog from his Charlottesville, Va., office.
Gabriel Rottman, the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative counsel on the First Amendment, told Reason magazine: “Given the already lenient standards for when the government can launch an investigation, the task force is both unnecessary and an invitation to investigate Americans because of the beliefs they hold, not because of any wrongdoing.”
While the Southern Poverty Law Center hailed Holder’s pivot against “domestic terrorists” and the “hate groups” it lists, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said DTEC’s mission to root out “anti-government animus” practically screams abuse.
“Would a group advocating strenuously for smaller government and lower taxes be included in the attorney general’s definition of a group with ‘anti-government animus?’” the House Judiciary Committee chairman asked at a recent congressional hearing.
Goodlatte didn’t get a straight answer from FBI Director James Comey.
With no congressional approval of DTEC required under the Patriot Act, and no budget transparency, Whitehead expects the worst.
“The object is not to find a jihadist, but to watch people and to stop dissent through intimidation,” he said. “The government is moving heavily into what’s called ‘pre-crime.’ It’s watching everything.”
Whitehead noted the apprehension of a Marine veteran who had posted anti-government comments on a Facebook page. A Secret Service task force, along with local police, incarcerated Brandon Raub involuntarily in a psychiatric facility — until Rutherford lawyers freed the Virginia man.
Whitehead’s takeaway from that Soviet-style treatment of a U.S. citizen: “If you’re chatting (online), you’re talking to the government.”
Advances in technology and the rapid growth of a privatized homeland security industry since 9/11 will help DTEC cast an even broader net, he warned.
“The stuff we used to regard as free speech isn’t any longer.”
Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward