It seems that the government's obsession with homeland security knows no bounds. What with warrantless wiretapping and cellphone tracking, launching malware against Iraq and (allegedly) the Tor network, and new revelations every week about NSA surveillance of US citizens it seems that the Man, at both federal and state leve,l is out to get as much control over security, dissent, and speech that is "unacceptable" as possible with complete disregard for the legality or effectiveness of many of their tactics.
A recent OMG moment in the increasingly large catalog of bureaucratic idiocy occurred in Nashville in June when, one Sherwin Smith, deputy director of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation clearly stated to a meeting of Maury County residents:
We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously ... But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there's no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.
I'll give you a moment to pick your jaws up off the floor ...
Smith was subsequently reassigned but it's hard to imagine that he was solely responsible for the ridiculous assertion; I'd guess Smith was the "fall guy."
But that mess illustrates the warped thinking that the "gummint" has fallen into. I have a theory: Policy wonks sit down to address problems and come up with a few rational ideas and objectives then it gets to 5PM and someone breaks out the Tequila and by the next day, bleary-eyed and hungover policies emerge that are sociopathic, authoritarian, and often not just illegal but unconstitutional as well.
Ready for another jaw-dropper?
Justin Carter, a 19-year-old stands accused of making “terroristic threats” in a Facebook posting in February and could face ... grab your seats ... up to 8 years in prison. According to his father, Justin was playing a video game and:
"[S]omeone had said something to the effect of 'Oh you're insane, you're crazy, you're messed up in the head. To which [Justin] replied 'Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head, I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts,’ and the next two lines were 'lol and jk' [all sic]."
Some "adult" spotted Carter's obviously childish post and reported it to the police. A Texas grand jury, driven by the gods know what dark forces (then again this is in Texas so I guess he's lucky they didn't just execute him on the spot), decided to charge him with terrorism!
Carter was in jail for almost five months and wound up being put in solitary on a suicide watch. He was released on $500,000 bail in early July and the case goes to trial at the end of September. If you think this is the monstrous injustice that it is please sign the petition on Watchdog.net.
While nowhere near as breathtakingly egregious as Carter's case the latest "in the name of homeland security" nonsense from The Man is a crackdown on people who train others on techniques to pass polygraph tests.
First, a little background: The polygraph, often erroneously referred to as a "lie detector", is a system that measures physiological responses (heart rate, breathing, skin conductivity, etc.) to questions on the theory that lying will cause measurable and predictable signals. Unfortunately the results of these devices are unreliable:
In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a report entitled "The Polygraph and Lie Detection". The NAS found that the majority of polygraph research was "unreliable, unscientific and biased", concluding that 57 of the approximately 80 research studies that the American Polygraph Association relies on to come to their conclusions were significantly flawed. These studies did show that specific-incident polygraph testing, in a person untrained in counter-measures, could discern the truth at "a level greater than chance, yet short of perfection". However, due to several flaws, the levels of accuracy shown in these studies "are almost certainly higher than actual polygraph accuracy of specific-incident testing in the field".
Even so, in government circles the efficacy of polygraph tests is still assumed to be good enough so they are still used for screening applicants for a huge range of jobs from your local police applicants to prospective NSA employees.
Given that the polygraph is less than 100% accurate a group of specialists has appeared over the years who claim they can teach you how to pass a polygraph test. For example, there's Doug Williams who owns polygraph.com and offers How to Sting the Polygraph, a course on how to handle a test. He says:
If you are nervous when you take your polygraph test, 50% of the time you will be branded as a liar. All the scientific evidence proves that this is a fact. Even the US SUPREME COURT has refused to allow polygraph results into evidence because the polygraph is not reliable and accurate as a "lie detector"! So don't make the mistake of thinking that all you have to do is to tell the truth and you will pass - to pass, you must LEARN HOW TO PASS!
An unpublicized recent investigation by federal agents has targeted instructors like Williams and according to an excellent McClatchy Newspapers article, Seeing threats, feds target instructors of polygraph-beating methods:
So far, authorities have targeted at least two instructors, one of whom has pleaded guilty to federal charges, several people familiar with the investigation told McClatchy. Investigators confiscated business records from the two men, which included the names of as many as 5,000 people who’d sought polygraph-beating advice. U.S. agencies have determined that at least 20 of them applied for government and federal contracting jobs, and at least half of that group was hired, including by the National Security Agency.
The term "outrageous" doesn't begin to cover it.
The article goes on to quote John Schwartz, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, who gave a speech to a professional polygraphers’ conference in Charlotte, N.C. in June:
“Nothing like this has been done before ... Most certainly our nation’s security will be enhanced. ... There are a lot of bad people out there. . . . This will help us remove some of those pests from society”
Schwartz is correct, there are a lot of bad people out there and a great many of them work in our government but removing these pests from our society is going to take a lot of work.