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Spying is a threat to freedom

January 8, 2014

Recently a number of papers have been declassified which detail the US military’s guides to identifying “terrorist threats”. I think it is important to consider in particular some of the contents of these documents.

First is a document composed by START: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism
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This document has been revised to include a statement from the director of start.
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These are a few of the opening statements:
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“To be clear, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) does not classify individuals as terrorists or extremists based on ideological perspectives.”
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and

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“First, at no point has any START study defined persons “suspicious of centralized federal authority” and “reverent of individual liberty” as terrorists. Instead, we assigned ideological classifications only to groups that have already carried out completed or attempted terrorist attacks.”
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These statements were presumably added because, in the opening words of the report:
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“Current articles and postings on the Internet have mischaracterized the conclusions of the START report “Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the UnitedStates, 1970 to 2008,”
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Now down a little further, to where the report would have normally began, under the About This Report heading:
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“The goal of this program is to sponsor research that will aid the intelligence and law enforcement communities in identifying potential terrorist threats and support policymakers in developing prevention efforts.”
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Which leads us back to those “ideological classifications” mentioned earlier, used to define certain groups who “have already carried out completed or attempted terrorist attacks”, in the words of the report.
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Down under the section of Data and Methodology are the group categories. As you will have gathered from what was quoted earlier, among these ideological are:
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Under the group Extreme Right-Wing:
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“groups that believe that one’s personal and/or national “way of life” is under attack and is either already lost or that the threat is imminent”
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and
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“anti-global, suspicious of centralized federal authority, reverent of individual liberty, and believe in conspiracy theories that involve grave threat to national sovereignty and/or personal liberty.”
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What I want to point out here is that, if this document has been prepared for, in the words of the document itself “sponsor research that will aid the intelligence and law enforcement communities in identifying potential terrorist threats and support policymakers in developing prevention efforts” does that not mean that it is the persons who experience these feelings or beliefs who will be under observation of spying programs?
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To put it another way, if this data sheet is meant to aid in the identification of terrorists, through whatever means (in this case, classifying past groups), does that not mean that these spying operations will be targeting individuals as potential terrorists who hold the same characteristics as those in these groups, in this case “reverent of individual liberty”, which we might hope for any peaceful and freedom loving people?
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To further clarify this I will examine further declassified government documents, but first, here is a link to the paper I have just discussed:
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Frankly, I find this next document to be even more direct and chilling. I will link it here because I feel it is easily accessible and illuminating. I will then proceed to discuss it:
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This is a document meant as a sort of rubric for when to increase spying operations. The main table is broken into three categories:
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1)Observe, Personal Issues
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2)Flag Possible, Radicalization
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3)Action, Prior to Violent Activity
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I think the first of those categories says it all pretty bluntly. If a citizen experiences “Personal Issues” they should be “Observed”.
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What are among these “Personal Issues” that warrant observation?
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“Complains about bias”
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This to me is an immediate sign of an authoritarian system. As a human we complain about bias when we feel our own needs are not being met to the benefit of others. If this is not part of any ordinary human thought process then I do not know what is, except perhaps if your view of humanity is “OBEY”.
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“Exhibits abrupt behavioral shifts”
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Whatever this means… With such vague language, what it spells to me is that you better have standardized behavior if you are going to be a part of this collective.
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“Needs empowerment”
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I’m pretty sure to a degree this is also a basic human characteristic.
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“Is socially withdrawn”
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Again, a demand to take part in the collective.
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“Believes in government conspiracies to the point of paranoia”
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Because governments have never done anything wrong, we should extend unconditional trust to them… right?
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“Frustrated with mainstream ideologies”
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How dare you, really, they’ve gone to such great lengths to broadcast you all the newest updates on Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus and all the bazillion sports events constantly taking place, what more do you want to know about the world you live in?
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“Lacks positive identity with country, unit, family or friends”
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While it might seem sweet that they care so much… really, they shouldn’t care so much… to me, this spells a further demand for collectivization.
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“Exhibits sudden reclusiveness”
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No privacy for you.
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That about sums up the “Observe” category.
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I think that the next two categories become more subtle, but there are definitely points that should be addressed.
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First, I think it is important to consider some of the terminology that is used in the following points. The reason I believe it is important to understand the functions of terminology and semantics is because, in a court of law the main players (the judge, lawyers and jury when applicable) are at all times interpreting the law.
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Two of the most important terms in this document are “Radical” and “Extremist”
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First “radical”
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These are definitions from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
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: very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary: very basic and important.: having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people

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I will address the third definition in particular because it is the most directly related. Firstly, the part about “political or social views that are not shared by most people”. Are these not protected in free countries by the right to freedom of speech and freedom of thought and expression?

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Secondly, the first part of that third definition, “having extreme political or social views…” brings me back to the second term from the document: “extremism”.

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These are definitions for “extreme” from Merriam-Webster:

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: very great in degree

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: very serious or severe

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: very far from agreeing with the opinions of most people : not moderate

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And this is the definition for “extremism”

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: belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable

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This appears as a more interesting term in fact, might it not seem logical to recognize those whose beliefs are far from “what most people consider correct or reasonable”?

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While I think it is fundamental here to return to the rights of free countries to free thought and expression, it doesn’t in itself get to the bottom of exactly why we cherish those rights so dearly, even to the degree that we would allow someone to think something that we generally would consider “very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable”.

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I don’t think that a few brief remarks will do complete justice to the love of freedom. Many books and poems have been written, films created,  and songs sung about what freedom truly means, and still it is an elusive thing.

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Instead of going on a long tirade about freedom, I will return to the initial concept of “extremism” and I will quote from the wiki-page for extremism because I feel it gives a very revealing indication of the issues that are faced here:

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“In liberal societies, individuals or groups that advocate the replacement of democracy with a more authoritarian regime are labelled extremists; in authoritarian societies, those who espouse liberal ideals are labelled as extremists by the ruling class or government.”

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[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremism]

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I think this quote is very revealing because it brings up a huge issue which is also inherent in the definition of extremism itself.

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Again, the definition of extremism:

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“belief in and support for ideas that are very far from what most people consider correct or reasonable”

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It all depends who decides which ideas are reasonable or correct.

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It is this reason that free countries reserve the rights of free thought and free speech. Consciousness evolves through considering new information and different perspectives.

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After that little run around, I want to return to the second document being examined above, to the second category of “Flag, Possible Radicalization”

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“Is sympathetic with radical groups”

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I hope I will have made this clear above, but this statement leaves a lot of ambiguity about what exactly constitutes a “radical group” other than the fact that it does not agree with mainstream ideologies, perhaps?

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“Visits extremist websites/blogs”

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If a person has never visited a website before, how can they be aware of the content of that website unless they have already visited it? Beyond that there is the same issue as above, what is to be considered “extremist” if not merely a discontent with mainstream ideology?

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“Establishes a website/blog to display extremist views”

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Uh oh… I guess that is the price of being concerned with world affairs and the truth these days…

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“Attends rallies for extremist causes”

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Right to freedom of assembly…

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“Associates with known radicals”

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“Is personally connected with a grievance”

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Watch out you never get wronged, or else!

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“Cuts ties with family or friends”

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And you better like that family and those friends of yours… forever!

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“Attempts to recruit others to extremist causes”

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It is particularly the vagueness about this statement… Why has no line been drawn such as “attempts to recruit others for violent activity”? What I want to make clear here is that with these kind of guidelines, we are putting many innocent people into a dragnet for exercising their rights to free speech, free thought, free association, freedom of assembly, etc.

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And now finally the third category: “Action, Prior to Violent Activity”

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“Organizes protests inspired by extremist ideology”

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I’m pretty sure this interferes with the right to assemble and the right to protest, and again the terminology is left so open that acts against extremist could be used as justification for acts against dissent.

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“Shows a sudden shift from radical to “normal” behavior to conceal radical behavior.”

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As a classification under the step to take action, I think this is a little too innocuous…

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“Takes suspicious or unreported travel (inside or outside of the continental United States)”
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Freedom of mobility…
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“Verbally indicates hatred for the United States and/or the Constitution”
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I don’t advocate hatred, but that is still free speech.
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“Inquires about weapons of mass effects”
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Inquires to who exactly, and for what purpose?
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I would have hoped that was all, but unfortunately there is more. Another document has been declassified and made available by judicial watch.
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Among other things, this document contains statements such as:
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“Nowadays, instead of dressing in sheets or publicly espousing hate messages, many extremists will talk of individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place”
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To put that another way, if you talk about “individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place” you are liable to be flagged as a possible terrorist.
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In another section, under the classificatory scheme of “Extremist Ideologies”
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“Anarchism – A political ideology that considers the state to be unnecessary, harmful, or undesirable.”
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I think this is particularly important to point out because what it does is further classifies dissent as a threat.
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The document I have just quoted from is available here:
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And again there is yet another declassified document which I would like to end with because I think it is possible to extrapolate from the content of this document a further insight into the political climate at present.
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This document was created to directly address what was above mentioned as the threat of “Extremist Right-Wing” ideologies. It can be found here:
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Among other no doubt illuminating quotes, I would like to address one in particular under the heading “Perceived Threat from Rise of Other Countries”
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“Rightwing extremist paranoia of foreign regimes could escalate or be magnified in the event of an economic crisis or military confrontation, harkening back to the “New World Order” conspiracy theories of the 1990s. The dissolution of Communist countries in Eastern Europe and the end of the Soviet Union in the 1990s led some rightwing extremists to believe that a “New World Order” would bring about a world government that would usurp the sovereignty of the United States and its Constitution, thus infringing upon their liberty.”
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Let’s hold this thought shall we? Instead of addressing it directly I want to bring up another document recently released by a Western government, only not the united states but instead the United Kingdom.
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This document is called “Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2040”. It is available here:
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It is in particular the following quote which is of immediate importance when taken into consideration with the quote from the document about “Extremist Right-Wing Ideologies”
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From the British “Strategic Trends” manual:
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“The era out to 2040 will be a time of transition; this is likely to be characterised by instability, both in the relations between states, and in the relations between groups within states. During this timeframe the world is likely to face the reality of a changing climate, rapid population growth, resource scarcity, resurgence in ideology, and shifts in global power from West to East. No state, group or individual can meet these challenges in isolation, only collective responses will be sufficient. Hence, the struggle to establish an effective system of global governance, capable of responding to these challenges, will be a central theme of the era. Globalisation, global inequality, climate change and technological innovation will affect the lives of everyone on the planet. There will be constant tension between greater interdependence between states, groups and individuals and intensifying competition between them. Dependence on complex global systems, such as global supply chains for resources, is likely to increase the risk of systemic failures”
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For anyone who did not catch the particular line of interest I will highlight it again:
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“During this timeframe the world is likely to face the reality of a changing climate, rapid population growth, resource scarcity, resurgence in ideology, and shifts in global power from West to East. No state, group or individual can meet these challenges in isolation, only collective responses will be sufficient. Hence, the struggle to establish an effective system of global governance, capable of responding to these challenges, will be a central theme of the era.
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Also, does it make any sense that a former president of the United States can talk about a “New World Order” but yet it is limited to conspiracy theorists and potential terrorists for the rest of the world?
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I will leave it at that for now.
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