They have begun pulling mildly leftist white people off of airplanes. It's time for the rest of us to get very worried.

The evidence is rolling in, and it is unmistakable: the Bush people are assembling purely political lists of individuals and groups to be targeted during some future crisis, real or manufactured. The list makers probably do not yet know what they plan to do to the people on their enemies lists, which are still fragmented among various agencies. However, once such lists are compiled, eventual government action becomes all but inevitable. It is already clear that the list will be a very long one, reaching into broad categories of what the current rulers consider to be dangerous dissenters.

Civil rights lawyers, Green Party activists and even the Catholic advocacy group Peace Action are on the lists, as are, it appears, Amnesty International and various environmental activist organizations.

In an article titled "Grounded," the mainstream related the experience of Center for Constitutional Rights assistant legal director Barbara Olshansky, who was forced to pull down her pants in view of other travelers at Newark International Airport. When the lawyer protested the indignity, a security agent replied, "The computer spit you out. I don't know why, and I don't have time to talk to you about it."

Six other employees of the center had been pulled out of an airport boarding line a month earlier. Since all had purchased their tickets separately under their own names, it was plain that the Center for Constitutional Rights staff were on some kind of list. Readers familiar with the workings of bureaucracies will immediately recognize the clanks, squeaks and grinds of cumbersome government machinery getting into gear.

Olshansky and her colleagues are, apparently, not alone. For months, rumors and anecdotes have circulated among leftwing and other activist groups about people who have been barred from flying or delayed at security gates because they are "on a list."

But now, a spokesman for the new Transportation Security Administration has acknowledged for the first time that the government has a list of about 1,000 people who are deemed "threats to aviation" and not allowed on airplanes under any circumstances. And in an interview with Salon, the official suggested that Olshansky and other political activists may be on a separate list that subjects them to strict scrutiny but allows them to fly.

"We have a list of about 1,000 people," said David Steigman, the TSA spokesman. The agency was created a year ago by Congress to handle transportation safety during the war on terror. "This list is composed of names that are provided to us by various government organizations like the FBI, CIA and INS.... We don't ask how they decide who to list. Each agency decides on its own who is a 'threat to aviation.'"

The agency has no guidelines to determine who gets on the list, Steigman says, and no procedures for getting off the list if someone is wrongfully on it.




The article details the harrassment of other political travelers, including people from conservative organizations that apparently wound up in the computer by mistake or through haste. Writer Dave Lindorff notes that the federal Transportation Security Agency's unpredictable actions "seem to be netting mostly priests, elderly nuns, Green Party campaign operatives, left-wing journalists, right-wing activists and people affiliated with Arab or Arab-American groups."

The 1,000-name "no fly" list referred to by the TSA spokesman is certainly not the larger, political list. If that were the case, none of the individuals interviewed by would have ever left the ground. The article's subjects are on a different set of lists. It is clear that the airport agents became confused because of a proliferation of lists - data in temporary disarray.

Bring me more names!

What is obvious is that names are being generated and dumped into an embryonic but evolving apparatus of wide-ranging political scope. The Bush men simply haven't fine-tuned the procedure. They have not yet differentiated between the "somewhat dangerous," the "immediately dangerous" or the "might become dangerous" - or whatever color-coded formulas ultimately emerge.

They want names, lots of them. The scatter-shot, eclectic character of the listings indicates that a furious demand is emanating from the highest levels of the bureaucracy for as many names as possible, as soon as possible. Collation and categorization will come later.

The exhortations from on-high were especially shrill in the corridors and field offices of the FBI. The New York Times headlined their November 21 article, "F.B.I. Officials Say Some Agents Lack a Focus on Terror," but any low-GS clerk could understand what the bureau's number two official, Bruce J. Gebhardt, was actually demanding when he sent out a memo to 56 field office agents-in-charge: names, names and more names.

"You need to instill a sense of urgency" in field agents, Mr. Gebhardt wrote. "They need to get out on the street and develop sources.

"You need to demand that information is being sent" to the bureau's headquarters in Washington, he continued, adding: "You are the leaders of the F.B.I. You cannot fail at this mission. Too many people are depending on us...."

Among their complaints, senior bureau officials have said they are unhappy that some field offices are not moving aggressively enough to use secret terrorism warrants, are not developing enough intelligence sources to penetrate possible terrorist cells and are not loading all the terrorism-related information they receive into the F.B.I.'s central computer system.

Officials said that senior bureau leaders in recent weeks have directed field supervisors to demand weekly written briefings from their counter-terrorism squads, ask more questions about investigations and push for greater use of warrants and surveillance against suspects.

The New York Times is unwilling or incapable of interpreting Gebhardt's memo, but every agent in the field understands perfectly what is demanded: names for the computers. Not the names of "sleeper" terrorists, who by definition cannot be identified. Not the names of criminals and fugitives, the people the existing system is designed to track. And only a fool could believe that, with all the flack the FBI has gotten over its pre-September 11 failures, field agents are slacking in their pursuit of persons who have even the remotest reason for being on watch lists for actual bombers, skyjackers and poisoners of water. That's not what the computers in Washington crave.

The FBI is focused on "preventing attacks," says the NYT article. In the bureau's lexicon, "preventative measures" is a euphemism for surveillance of persons and infiltration of groups that have committed no crime for which they can be arrested. There can be but one result that satisfies headquarters' demand: more names and thicker dossiers. And there is only one way for the agents in the field to produce these items in sufficient quantity; the "anti-terror squads" must revert to their roles as Red Squads, Black Militant Squads and Agitator Squads - under new nomenclature, of course.

This should have been expected since the morning the Twin Towers fell, a reflexive reaction by an agency molded from its beginnings as a political police force. However, the sheer size of the net being cast - to include blond, Catholic, Wisconsin schoolgirls attempting to board a flight to Washington to lobby their congressman against the U.S. war in Colombia - indicates that the "usual suspects," the historical targets of repression, will have unaccustomed, white middle class company.

The Bush regime, it is becoming apparent, is as serious about smashing domestic opposition to its agenda as it is about Saddam Hussein. As Bush told Bob Woodward, "I will seize the opportunity to achieve big goals."

Islam is the FBI's open portal to the African American community at large. The Nation of Islam has a long history of relationships with Middle Eastern and Arab nations, and non-NOI African American Muslims often worship with foreign co-religionists. FBI mumbo-jumbo can fill in the rest of the justifications for the most intensive, general surveillance of Black American Muslims and their associates. Since these Muslims are indigenous, comprising probably 5 percent of African American citizens, their relatives and "associates" include virtually the entire Black population.

The chosen ones

Contragate criminal John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness project, under construction in the bowels of the Pentagon with the capability to keep track of an individual's every electronic move, is not designed to screen the behavior of 285 million Americans. Too much data, few practical uses. But tens or a few hundreds of thousands of politically marked targets - that's a potentially doable mission. The logic of world events and the zeal of the Bush men will create the domestic emergency long before Poindexter's machine is ready but, by its very existence, the project telegraphs the regime's intentions.

Here's how Poindexter's Information Awareness Office describes his project:

The TIA program objective is to create a counter-terrorism information system that: (1) increases information coverage by an order of magnitude, and affords easy future scaling; (2) provides focused warnings within an hour after a triggering event occurs or an evidence threshold is passed; (3) can automatically queue analysts based on partial pattern matches and has patterns that cover 90% of all previously known foreign terrorist attacks; and, (4) supports collaboration, analytical reasoning and information sharing so that analysts can hypothesize, test and propose theories and mitigating strategies about possible futures, so decision-makers can effectively evaluate the impact of current or future policies and prospective courses of action.

Domestic translation: Round up the people in categories X and Y.

If it appears that we are painting a picture of inevitable, massive detentions and restrictions of American citizens, it is because the daily sweep of administration activity points in that direction. There will be serious if not catastrophic terror attacks on U.S. soil - Bush's foreign policy guarantees it. When the attacks come, the regime in Washington will declare some kind of state of emergency; only the particulars are unknown, probably to the Bush men, themselves. And they are not compiling lists of public activists and left-leaners, in urgent and sloppy haste, just for the fun of it.

Measures will be taken against the names on the lists of those designated as domestic threats. An action plan will inexorably shape itself around the database. That's how bureaucracies of repression work. Discreet categories of threat require specific measures of response. It will take a while for the various agencies to work out the details. There can be no doubt, however, that the people closest to George Bush are impatient to move the task along.

There is no precedent for the things in store in the days ahead: not McCarthyism, notCointelpro, not a combination of the two. Technology plus the new, corporate-style methods of a ruthless, social monopoly-minded, mass media manipulating, coldly corrupt and absolutely cynical politic class has created and is feeding upon an environment of permanent crisis. These men have plans to reorganize American society and the world, they know they will be opposed by larger and deeper sectors of the population over time, and they are preparing to act decisively against the opposition. First, they take names.

Nothing but a mass movement, comprised of many "targets," can stop the machine that is clanking rather noisily into place. However, the machinery, itself, may become the engine of mass mobilization. The Bush men, supremely arrogant and flush with power, are making a mistake in advertising their intentions against the persons of white lawyers and other left-liberals. Bush and Cheney forget the duality of American society; some people can be abused with impunity; others, connected to significant sectors of opinion and resources by profession, family wealth and background and, most importantly, by race - cannot be so cavalierly stripped of their citizenship rights.

The duality of American life and death

December 4 marks the 33rd anniversary of the assassination of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, set up for execution in Chicago by an FBI contract agent. Hampton was barely 21 years old, a brilliant, one-time pre-law student and Youth Leader of the West Suburban (Chicago) branch of the NAACP, where he organized 500 members. Hampton then founded the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party and rose swiftly to national prominence. Police riddled Hampton's body with bullets while he lay helpless, drugged by the FBI's employee.

The people who haul white lawyers and Catholic nuns off of airplanes will kill a Black activist in his bed the very same night. This is what passes for equivalence in a racist society.

White folks are being put on some serious lists. Under the perverse duality of America, that means the canaries are already dying. "Grounded" article (premium)

The ACLU No Fly List Complaint Form.

Total Information Awareness site

Fred Hampton, The Talking Drum site

Fred Hampton, Biography Resource Center site

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Issue Number 18
November 28, 2002



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Other commentaries in this issue:

Commentary 2
Black Democrats Urge Media Counteroffensive... But media is no substitute for substance

Commentary 3
Secret Bomber to Probe Secrets of Bombing...

Tom Paine challenged... Young Congressman spurned... Reputable publication tomfoolerized

Guest Commentary
Trail of Heritage and Tears; Black Indians to meet in Oklahoma to claim their rights. By Eleanor "Gypsy" Wyatt

Iraq's Nuclear Non-Capability: Iraqi scientist tells of impoverished colleagues, defunct program. By Imad Khadduri

Commentaries in Issue 17 November 21 , 2002:

Poll Shows Black Political Consensus Strong... Analysis of JCPES survey reveals consistent class, gender, age agreement

NEWS from goes weekly

The Harold Ford Show vs Serious Democratic Business

THE CRISIS, ongoing... Homosexuals singled out?... Disgruntled readers’ revenge

War for Private Profit... Bush’s Drugs of Choice

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.