The age of citizen spies is upon us
By End the Lie
This has now expanded to countries that are billed as bastions of freedom (laughable though that may be) like the United States and the United Kingdom.
These programs draw from precedents like the Ministry for State Security or Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS), also known as the Stasi of East Germany.
Modern programs are arguably more insidious due to the powerful propaganda that backs them, like the infamous Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “see something, say something” program.
One of the more recent incarnations of the citizen spy apparatus in the United States is the distribution of an 84-page manual to hotels around the country entitled “Protective Measures Guide for the U.S. Lodging Industry” distributed by Homeland Security and the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
In addition to the alliance with the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Homeland Security has partnered with Major League Baseball, National Football League, Amtrak, the Mall of America, Walmart, Ohio State University, the University of Oklahoma , and the U.S. Tennis Association and many more to spread their virulent propaganda.
This manual teaches owners, managers and staff how to tell if a guest could be a potential terrorist. Yet, like all of the other DHS guidelines they are so absurdly general that almost anyone could be labeled a potential terrorist.
Some of these wildly generalized indicators are paying with cash and demanding privacy among other wholly innocuous activities that are now being branded as suspicious.
If someone demanded privacy and they were bringing in large amounts of ammonium nitrate fertilizer with drums of liquid nitromethane, then employees would be more than justified in reporting suspicious activity.
Unfortunately, this is not what they are training them to do; they are training them to be perpetually paranoid and suspicious of all activity, no matter how innocent it actually is.
The propaganda assault on behalf of the DHS has been expanded to a staggering 1.2 million hotel television sets in hotels across the country, including Hilton, Sheraton, Marriot, Holiday Inn and others.
All of these hotels will display a 15-second advertisement which encourages citizens to report suspicious activity to law enforcement on the television welcome screen, according to a USA Today article published earlier this month.
In principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reporting suspicious activity, however when harmless activity is rebranded as suspicious, there is reason for concern.
Furthermore, as Josh Meyer of the National Security Journalism Initiative pointed out to USA Today, these types of programs will likely create an influx of useless intelligence which is a massive waste of resources, time, and taxpayer dollars.
It could create “a huge amount of potentially baseless tips that will inundate local, state and federal law enforcement authorities,” Meyer said.
Not only does it breed unnecessary fear and suspicion, but it also will assuredly result in much more useless tips and information than would otherwise come in.
If someone sees a person engaging in the types of activities shown in the 15-second ad, they will almost certainly report it without prodding and fear mongering on the part of Homeland Security.
Does it really take a public service announcement to tell you that someone messing with a device in a trunk of a car filled with gas canisters and propane tanks is suspicious?
These types of clearly suspicious activities are already reported but somehow DHS employees twist this to mean that we need more propaganda that expands the realm of suspicious activities into things as clearly innocuous as paying with cash or seeking privacy.
For instance, in the USA Today article, the sober assessment by Meyer is countered by a nonsensical statement from DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard.
Boogaard says that the incident in May of 2010 when two street vendors stopped an attempted car bombing by called in a smoking vehicle in Times Square in New York City.
Is anyone really silly enough to think that people would suddenly stop reporting smoking cars in major populated areas if the propaganda ceased?
Most Americans have been so indoctrinated at this point that I believe it is beyond the point of return for most and the push to expand the propaganda by the DHS will only prove harmful.
However, it is not only the United States that has been brought into the era of citizen spies and total distrust of fellow citizens.
Indeed Big Brother is thriving like never before in the United Kingdom, exemplified by the almost 10,000 volunteer citizen spies who have already signed up to tattle on neighbors for the despicable “environmental crime.”
What is “environmental crime” you ask? The high crimes of failing to pick up dog feces, littering, and failing to properly sort trash number among the heinous acts that justify the implementation of citizen spies.
I find it impossible to write about this without laughing out loud, mostly out of discomfort and disbelief.
The volunteer citizen spies are outfitted with GPS computers or phone cards to cover their own costs, which they use to report the “crime” and provide the so-called authorities with location information “for a rapid response” according to the British Daily Mail.
The program already has a stunning 9,831 individuals signed on to spy on their neighbors, a 17% increase from just two years ago and another 1,310 are going to be added.
London’s Hillingdon Council has the most “street champions” with some 4,850 volunteers recording 1,000 incidents per month on average.
18 councils across England are implementing the truly Orwellian, Stalinesque program which recruits through council websites calling for “street champions” as well as local newspapers.
The director of civil liberties watchdog group Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, told the Daily Mail, “It should be deeply troubling for us all that councils seem not content with their own snooping and are now recruiting members of the public to assist them.”
Just like the untrained citizen spies in America, Pickles points out that these neighborhood snoops “operate with little or no training, and there is no evidence to suggest it helps environmental crime.”
“If a crime is committed, it is the police who should be involved, not local residents given hi-tech gadgets by councils, many of whom rarely pass up an opportunity to invade our privacy or hand out spurious fines,” Pickles said.
Similarly, Emma Boon of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said, “Councils shouldn’t be asking people to spy on their neighbours…it could breed resentment within communities.”
Their points are valid and important ones which are exemplified by social psychological research like the infamous Stanford prison experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo.
Give someone a sense of power over another human, contrived or otherwise, and bad things happen. Those with the power quickly lose their moral compass and begin to dehumanize and abuse those who they have power over.
It is a kind of feedback loop in which the superiors and subordinates feed off of each other’s actions, exacerbating the problem.
It is only logical to speculate that the type of people who would go out of their way to volunteer for these types of programs are likely to fall into the behavioral pattern exemplified by the Stanford prison experiment, as they are well aware that they’re signing up to be citizen spies.
I would love to see a social psychological experiment conducted on these individuals, as it could give significant insight into the mindset involved in someone who volunteers to spy on their neighbors.
This program in the UK just exemplifies how the West is embracing the same tactics so long associated with brutal totalitarian regimes with disturbing ease.
Here in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is making an all-out push towards a total surveillance state where citizen spies will only be a small part in the behemoth machine.
One might argue that the citizen spies are not actually meant to produce actionable human intelligence, but instead to breed the same type of false divide seen in the Stanford prison experiment and a state of total distrust and paranoia just like that engineered by brutal authoritarian leaders like Stalin.
The evidence does not support the contention that these types of programs are successful, indeed the huge amount of baseless suspicion created will likely outweigh what little positive impact the programs actually have.
It is also a much more troubling representation of the direction our once free nation, along with the rest of the Western world, is taking. How far will we allow us to go down this road of rampant paranoia under the guise of national security?