Are YOU A Terrorist Suspect?

Helen Shibut

            Does the government suspect that you might be a terrorist?
            When the United States passed the USA PATRIOT Act following the September 11th attacks, it empowered the states to create “fusion centers” to collect information on citizens who the states suspect might be involved in terrorist activity. The fusion centers coordinate with the CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland security to keep an eye on suspicious individuals. So what exactly can get you a file at one of these centers?
            Adam Schwartz of the ACLU looked through some reports from different states’ fusion centers. In Maryland, people who oppose the death penalty are scrutinized. In Missouri, Ron Paul supporters and people who dare to have the popular “Don’t Tread on Me” flags outside their homes are considered possible domestic terrorist threats. Here in Virginia, all it takes is involvement in one of the state’s historically black colleges, because the fusion center considers them such institutions dens of dangerous radicalism.
            I looked at the Virginia Fusion Center website to see if I could find out about any specific files. I didn’t have much luck. When I opened the page, a video entitled “Cost of Freedom, Fighting Terrorism” started playing at the bottom of the screen, complete with ominous music and images of terrorist attacks. The video explained how the PATRIOT Act emerged in an attempt to alleviate citizens’ fear of terrorism. The website told me how to submit a Suspicious Incident Report if I noticed any of the “7 Signs of Terrorism.”
            Ironically, several of the “7 Signs” pointed to the fusion center itself as a domestic terrorist threat. Here are the signs that point to this threat (these are taken directly from the Virginia Fusion Center website! )

-“Surveillance: Recording or monitoring activities. May include drawing diagrams, note taking, use of cameras, binoculars or other vision-enhancing devices or possessing floor plans or blueprints of key facilities.” 
-“Elicitation: Attempts to obtain operation, security and personnel-related information regarding a key facility. May be made by mail, fax, e-mail, telephone or in person.”
-“Acquiring Supplies: Attempts to improperly acquire items that could be used in a terrorist act. May include the acquisition of explosives, weapons, harmful chemicals, flight manuals, law enforcement or military equipment, uniforms, identification badges or the equipment to manufacture false identification.”
-“Suspicious Persons: Someone who does not appear to belong in a workplace, neighborhood or business establishment due to their behavior, including unusual questions or statements they make.”

            Perhaps I should be worried—according to the website, it sounds like a potential terrorist organization could be compiling a secret file on me!
            In all seriousness, the fact that our government identifies organizations and people that conduct surveillance on innocent people and try to find out details about their personal lives as suspicious, but sees no problem with performing these activities itself, is a little creepy. If our government discovered that China or Russia had a similar program, it would attack them for gross violations of civil liberties. Regardless of your political affiliation or whether you engage in any peaceable activities that the government might frown upon, all freedom-loving Americans have a responsibility to stand up to their government when it gets out of hand. That means protesting irresponsible government spending, poorly thought out wars, and perhaps most of all, violations of civil liberties and privacy. A government that spies on its own people is a government not to be trusted.


The Real Way To Save

Helen Shibut

         In the second presidential debate last night, there was plenty of intellectual dishonesty coming from both sides. But the most striking instance of this was President Obama’s promise to reduce deficits and create jobs “using the savings from ending wars.”
         Wars cost money. A lot of money. In the past, America has had to go to war to defend itself against actual threats, and the money for those wars just had to be spent. For example, if our founding fathers had not fought the Revolutionary War because they did not want to spend the money, then we would not be independent from Great Britain right now. But the conflicts we are engaged in now, toppling dictators in the Middle East, some of whom only came to power because of our influence, are just simply not worth the money.
         Deciding not to go to war is not the same thing as saving money. By President Obama’s logic, the fact that we did not invade France this year means that we saved a few billion dollars, or whatever such a war would have cost us. Not spending money on wars and other programs that we do not need is not saving money—it just means we are not spending more.
         President Obama and Governor Romney need to get serious about what saving money really means. Saving means cutting unnecessary spending, not just refusing to pile on more spending. Serious saving requires being honest about the fact that our entitlement programs are unsustainable. You would not know it from the rhetoric, but we simply cannot keep benefits the same for all current retirees and people close to retirement. We have to make cuts now, not just promise cuts for future generations.