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www.infowars.comStories:Justice Department Forges Ahead
with Domestic Spy Plan TIPS
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Tuesday July 23, 2002
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is forging ahead with establishing a network of domestic tipsters_despite being dealt what may be a deathly blow to the plan: House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, inserted last week a ban on the program in the bill to form a new Homeland Security Department.
"The administration is continuing to pursue Operation TIPS. We're continuing with that course of action," Barbara Comstock, spokeswoman for Attorney General John Ashcroft, said in an interview Friday. That was the same day Armey's committee approved the bill. "We believe the program represents an important resource and that it's been misrepresented to date."
Operation TIPS, short for Terrorism Information and Prevention System, is one part of President George W. Bush's volunteerism initiatives. It aims to recruit millions of American workers to be alert to "suspicious" activities they encounter in their workday routines_and report them to a toll-free, federal hotline. The government is looking for "truck drivers, bus drivers, train conductors, mail carriers, utility meter readers, ship captains and port personnel," according to the program's Web site.
Armey's impetus for banning Operation TIPS? "To ensure that no operation of the department can be construed to promote citizens spying on one another," he wrote in his summary of the bill. The Republican leader's opposition was the politically weightiest in a weeklong series of statements against the program, set for launch in August.
The American Civil Liberties Union declared last Monday that the program could turn utility workers into "government-sanctioned peeping Toms." Then on Wednesday the Rutherford Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes privacy and religious rights, weighed in.
"What this means for the average citizen is that whatever you read, eat or do - in the privacy of your home or out in public_will now be suspect in the eyes of your cable repairman, postal carrier, meter man or others who, by way of the services they provide, will have access to your home," said John W. Whitehead, founder and president of the Virginia-based institute.
The outcry prompted the U.S. Postal Service to issue a statement Wednesday to make it clear that its 300,000-plus letter carriers nationwide hadn't signed on.
But Sue Brennan, spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said in an interview Friday that the idea was still on the table. She said Postal Service officials and the unions representing its letter carriers plan to meet with Justice Department officials to further explore the program. The notice of nonparticipation, she said, was to make it clear that an earlier meeting did not signal an endorsement.
"We issued it to try to calm what was going on," she said. "We never agreed to participate. Nothing had progressed beyond that first meeting."
Yet the plan has plenty of takers already. Labor unions that represent the nation's truck drivers and port workers stepped up to volunteer their "eyes and ears" to the terrorism surveillance effort.
Indeed, James P. Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, stood in the White House driveway June 21 after a meeting with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to pledge his support.
"On behalf of the Teamsters, I offered the fact that we have 500,000 truck drivers on the road at any one time, and these people can be the eyes and ears of the Homeland Security office," Hoffa said. "They are in secure buildings. We have 250,000 UPS workers. And we're going to work with the director in the future about trying to put together a program where they can report as they see things that are suspicious."
Teamsters spokesman Rob Black told the Post-Dispatch that the union has held "informal talks" with the administration since then.
"The Teamsters remain willing to make good on Mr. Hoffa's offer to help serve in the homeland security efforts, and the TIPS program is something that the Teamsters clearly support," Black said.
Similarly, the president of the 85,000-member International Longshoremen's Association stands by his vow in late March to play a surveillance role at the nation's docks.
"In the wake of September 11th, U.S. ports are again the focus of concern for illegal use of containers," Longshoreman's President John Bowers wrote in the summer newsletter to union members. "The contents could contain something much more destructive than illegal drugs, perhaps even a nuclear device.
"My members know the docks. They would know better than anyone if something's wrong."
The ACLU is acknowledging that, in such instances, a volunteer tipster program would be perfectly legitimate. But the group's primary concern revolves around the administration's stated purpose of recruiting from the ranks of utility meter readers and package delivery personnel.
"I'm less worried about interstate truckers as UPS delivery people who go to people's homes. Americans still feel like their home is a sacred place, where they should be free from unreasonable government surveillance," said ACLU legislative counsel Rachel King. She believes overzealous volunteers might consider as suspicious items they spot in a home_such as gun magazines, a Quran or letters written in Arabic.
"That doesn't mean if you're a UPS worker and you see a bomb that we don't want you to report it. We're not saying, `Don't use common sense.' We're just saying that at what point do we create an informant society?"
Comstock, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said Operation TIPS' planners have no intention of promoting snooping in private places:
"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."
According to the program's Web site, Operation TIPS' launch will start this summer "as a pilot program in 10 cities." But on Friday, when asked whether the Justice Department had chosen those 10 cities, Comstock said the pilot plan had been scrapped for a less-targeted approach.
The ACLU, which was particularly concerned with the focus of a large corps of volunteer tipsters in just 10 U.S. cities, welcomed the change of plans. King speculated that opposition from multiple prongs of the political spectrum_and particularly from Armey_may have tempered the initial plan.
"It sounds like maybe the Justice Department is trying to take into consideration some of the concerns," King said. "If that's the case, I'm happy to hear that."
© 2002, St. Louis Post-DispatchTampa, FL Checkpoints:
They call it a ``Voluntary Roadside Interview.'' But for hundreds of motorists flagged down by state troopers Monday on Interstate 4, there was nothing voluntary about it.
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A day after President Bush's release of a homeland defense strategy calling for the possible domestic use of U.S. military forces, Alabama activated a 300-soldier Army National Guard tank battalion as part of a homeland defense force.------------------------------------
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