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Feature Story March 18, 2004
 
Amerikanskie Siloviki
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
Page 4 of 6
 
Technology has been applied to far more invasive ways of tracking, as well. At least people are aware when their prints are taken; not so with facial recognition technology. This basically works by comparing video stills of the faces in a crowd to a database of suspicious people in order to weed out potential troublemakers. This isn't science fiction -- they've already this software at a couple of Super Bowls and the presidential inauguration. Combine that technology with the fact that you can walk for several square miles in midtown Manhattan and never once be off-camera, and you have the potential for an unprecedented level of surveillance.

The brilliance of this technology is that, rather than tracking everybody, it identifies potential threats and deals with them. The only real question is who gets to be considered a potential threat. One hint is an FBI memo leaked to the New York Times a year and change ago that called for close observation of antiwar protesters. In some cases, like at the National Lawyer's Guild at Drake University, federal prosecutors even issued subpoenas to get the membership rolls of antiwar organizations. The Left acted all outraged, but they can't really think that the FBI is out chasing terrorists all day. Contemporary war protesters hardly pose a threat to national security -- their most disruptive action is to block traffic for enough time to make the news, but not inconvenience anyone -- but Siloviki are all about keeping tabs on all their enemies.

Another example that should make you paranoid is Ashcroft's recent attempt to get abortion clinics across the country to provide lists of women who received certain types of once-legal "partial-birth" abortions. Those abortions have since been outlawed by the Siloviki, and you gotta wonder, is Ashcroft going to try to punish these women ex post facto? What else could he want the info for? We've already seen how the Bush Siloviki have disposed of attorney-client privileges; now they're going after confidential medical info as well. Who will they share it with? You gotta bet that some insurance companies who donated to Bush-Cheney '04 wouldn't be upset if they got ahold of all those medical records.

The Siloviki's data acquisition methods are further illuminated by the government's internet data mining projects. The original project, sinisterly titled Total Information Awareness and headed by Iran-Contra cover-up artist retired Admiral John Poindexter, was cancelled as soon as it was scooped. The basic premise was to scour public and private records accessible via the internet for data that might be of use to the security services. Poindexter assured that the government would only gather info on non-US citizens, as if info online has a nationality. After the well-publicized cancellation of Poindexter's project, the AP reported in February that information had come to light that the programs were never cancelled, but rather redistributed to various security agencies with the goal of better concealing the project from the public view.

GOVERNMENT OPACITY

A surefire way to judge the growing influence of security agencies to gauge just how much government work is transparent. In the States, that's always meant a relatively balanced relationship between the three branches of government, and being able to watch all their power struggles out in the open. There are way too many examples of the American Siloviki concealing their decision-making process to list, so we'll have to settle for a few prominent ones.

Certainly high on the list is the creation of the Department of Homeland Security by uniting various disparate agencies under one uber-ministry. It has some 170,000 employees, making it essentially the largest post-war expansion of the federal government. Wonder what those 170,000 are doing with their time? To quote Wade Gustafson from Fargo, "They're not drinking milkshakes, I assure you!"

Then there's the tired issue of Dick Cheney's Energy Commission. For something as seemingly innocuous, relatively speaking, as discussing US energy policy, he's made a huge deal about keeping the minutes private. Theories as to why range from the paranoid -- the task force was talking about colonizing Iraq even before Sept. 11 -- to the probable -- Cheney doesn't want to admit to the extent that the energy lobby is controlling government policy. The odd-couple pairing of the environmentalist Sierra Club and conservative watchdog Judicial Watch have already gotten three judgments ordering Cheney to release the pertinent documents, and now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. Usually when all the lower courts are in harmony, the Supreme Court lets their judgments alone, but not when the Siloviki's interests are at stake. In a classic Silovik move that could have been stolen from a page in Putin's book, Cheney's been clumsily romancing his inside connections with Justice Scalia, taking the justice duck hunting as a none-too-subtle reminder of who the topper is and who the bottomer is in their relationship.


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