U.S. Measures May Incite Domestic Terror

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In this scenario, how will Government treat citizens in "patriot" groups? If civil liberties are lost long-term, then is true (non-Phyrric) victory in this war possible?

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U.S. Measures May Incite Domestic Terror

2300 GMT, 2001 09 21

Summary

In the wake of terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. government is moving quickly to create a new Cabinet-level agency for homeland defense and ease restrictions on law enforcement agencies. But while these measures may prove effective against foreign attacks, they may also lead to increased domestic terrorism.

Analysis

In a televised State of the Union address Sept. 20, U.S. President George W. Bush announced the creation of a new Cabinet-level agency designed to "lead, oversee and coordinate" a national strategy to guard the United States against terrorism. Congress meanwhile is considering new laws to ease restrictions on wiretapping and eavesdropping.

These new measures may be necessary components to protect the United States from further attacks by foreign terrorists. But they will also likely fuel the fears and anger of domestic groups such as the Michigan Militia or the North American Volunteer Militia. In time, as the U.S. security apparatus looks for threats coming from outside the country, the United States may again face attacks from within.

More than 800 militia-style groups existed at the peak of the anti-government movement in the mid-1990s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The number has decreased dramatically in the past five years, thanks to a combination of a strong economy and heavy pressure from law enforcement agencies in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. The SPLC now identifies only 194 "Patriot" groups that were active in 2000.

Generally Patriot groups define themselves as opposed to the "New World Order" or advocate extreme anti-government doctrines, fearing the growth of government bureaucracies and intrusion upon civil liberties. Such groups are likely to enjoy a resurgence in interest, membership and activities as the government adopts more stringent security measures.

U.S. lawmakers historically have been very cautious about tipping the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties. It took Congress nearly a year to pass former U.S. President Bill Clinton's anti-terrorism bill after the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. In the weeks before the recent terror attacks, privacy advocates hailed a major victory when a San Diego judge banned the use of automatic cameras to catch cars driving through red lights.

But the attacks in New York and Washington have dramatically altered much of the nation's thinking, as many Americans are beginning to place a greater value on security. This shift is reflected in the federal government.

The newly announced Office of Homeland Security, to be headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, is aimed at knitting together counter terrorism functions now scattered across more than 40 federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, National Guard and local police and firefighting forces. It will focus not only on preventing terrorist attacks but also on fortifying potential targets by developing plans to protect the nation's transportation, power and food systems, according to officials cited by the Associated Press.

The "Mobilization Against Terrorism Act" still under consideration in Congress would rewrite laws dealing with wiretapping, eavesdropping and immigration. Included in the bill are provisions to ease the restrictions the FBI faces on installing its Carnivore Internet-surveillance system as well as streamlining procedures to obtaining voicemail recordings.

Further provisions include eliminating the statue of limitations for terrorism-related crimes and allowing federal authorities to detain without a court order non-U.S. citizens suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Also under consideration is a modification to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it easier for prosecutors in certain highly sensitive cases to look through the records of a business, credit card company or Internet provider.

Fewer restrictions on law enforcement agents and the creation of a new federal office may be necessary steps to protect the United States from foreign terrorists. But powerful bureaucracies and narrowed civil liberties are exactly the sort of triggers that set off militia groups.

We are likely to see a resurgence of militia group activity just at the time that law enforcement agencies are retasking themselves to counter foreign threats. Even if law enforcement agents continue to infiltrate militia groups, it is much more difficult to monitor and prevent activity from individuals. As militia ranks fill, it is not unlikely to expect some of them to resort to the same kind of armed activity as Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski did in the past.

Copyright 2001 Strategic Forecasting LLC. All rights reserved. Fair Use for Education and Research Purposes Only

-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), September 22, 2001


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