WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–The Bush administration has had a lot to celebrate over recent days and civil liberties advocates have gotten more worried.

First, with one of the last acts of the 107th Congress aimed at creation of a new branch of government, the Department of Homeland Security, possibly led by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and a Nov. 18 legal opinion that expands Justice Department surveillance authority, the Bush administration will have enormous power.

In addition, the Defense Department is working on a “data-mining” program that could bring together huge amounts of information, ranging from newspaper subscriptions to traffic violations, as an anti-terror weapon.


“This was a productive week in the war against terror, both at home and abroad,” said Pres. Bush in the opening of his Nov. 16, radio broadcast.

“Congress returned to Washington with renewed energy and a commitment to make progress on key issues. Members of the House and Senate reached a crucial agreement to create a new Department of Homeland Security. With Congress’ vote on the final legislation, America will have a single agency with the full-time duty of protecting our people against attack,” he said.

War at home and abroad With a Republican-controlled Congress opening in January and Homeland Security, the biggest overhaul of government in 50 years, on the agenda, critics say civil liberties and fundamental freedoms are under further siege.

The Bush administration calls the Department of Homeland Security and anti-terror legislation like the U.S. Patriot Act long overdue assets to national security.

Others say the war on terror and looming war against Iraq have already led to attacks on the religion of Islam, Muslims, Arab Americans and others mistaken for adherents to the religion.

Racial and ethnic profiling continues along every U.S. border, in schools, hospitals and banks, with secret evidence used to detain and try suspects out of public view. Meanwhile city governments complain that presidential promises to help pay for added security have not been kept.

In his radio address, Mr. Bush said the new department will unify responsibilities spread among dozens of government agencies. It could ostensibly merge the Customs Service, the INS, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration and many others.

“It will pool together the best intelligence information and coordinate our response. The new department will help develop the technology America needs to detect and defeat chemical, biological, and nuclear threats. And under the agreement reached this week, I will have the authority and flexibility to move people and resources to where they are needed without bureaucratic rules and lengthy labor negotiations,” the president said.

“The government says it will recruit millions of informers to serve as ‘extra eyes and ears for law enforcement’ at the local level, reporting what the citizen-snoops consider ‘suspicious and potentially terrorist-related activity,’ that’s potentially terrorist-related,” said AlterNet columnist Peter Y. Sussman.

“Like a bumper sticker in Arabic on a neighbor’s car, perhaps,” he said. Mr. Sussman criticized the administration officials for what he has called “the suspension of civil rights,” and the creation of Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System).

“We believe that Tom Ridge has added a lot of things which have nothing to do with security,” WVON-AM radio’s Cliff Kelly told The Final Call from his Chicago office. “The Homeland Security Act will be used to profile minorities, and will be used to further present the Black man as the bogeyman,” he warned.

Mr. Kelly also serves as vice president of the Illinois division of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In the past, the ACLU could turn to the courts for remedy when civil rights and human rights were trampled upon, he said. But with Republicans running Congress, Mr. Bush will consolidate power by appointing right-wing judges, “who will not take the position of judges in the 1960s and 70s, who said to the powers that be, no you cannot do that.”

On Nov. 18, some of the power was realized. A three-judge panel rendered a 56-page opinion tossing out a lower court decision. The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review approved Attorney General John Ashcroft’s desire to expand wiretap and surveillance authority. The surveillance court, founded in 1978, was created to oversee sensitive law enforcement surveillance by the U.S. government. The lower court, in denying the request earlier this year, pointed to 75 surveillance warrant violations under the Clinton and Bush administrations.

The Nov. 18 opinion, rendered by appointees of former President Ronald Reagan; semi-retired judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals of Cincinnati, Ralph B. Guy, semi-retired Court of Appeals judge for the District of Columbia Laurence Hirsch Silberman, and semi-retired judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Edward Leavy; ordered the lower court to give the government autonomy it sought.

The panel said lower court rulings “are not required by (the law) or the Constitution.”

“As of today, the attorney general can suspend the ordinary requirements of the fourth amendment in order to listen in on phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans’ homes and offices,” said Ann Beeson, litigation director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program. The new power stemmed from provisions in the Patriot Act adopted by Congress after Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It was supposed to permit looser foreign intelligence standards to conduct criminal investigations inside the United States. But, it has domestic implications, say observers.

“This is a major Constitutional decision that will affect every American’s privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruing to the Supreme Court,” said Ms. Beeson. “Hearing a one-sided argument and doing so in secret goes against the traditions of fairness and open government that have been the hallmark of our democracy,” she said.

“During the (Soviet Union Pres. Mikal) Gorbachev years, he said that America will become more like Russia and Russia will become more like America,” said Tyrone Powers, a professor who specializes in government and civil liberties at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland.

“We are moving quickly into a police state. The remedies in (the Homeland Security) bill don’t address terrorism or the cause of 9-11. This law will not deter or catch terrorists. But the public is extremely fearful and the government can tell us that this bill will help and we’ll believe it. It only serves to make us a draconian society. With this bill, the terrorists win,” he said. “They will have provoked the government to reveal it’s true self, to reveal what they really are as an oppressive state. The citizens lose because they are forced to live in a police state without reason.”

Protecting liberty or curtailing free speech?

The same day the agreement in Congress was reached over Homeland Security, reports surfaced about the return of Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden and a new round of alleged terrorism threats.

Color coded alerts were announced and federal agencies acknowledged of an air-travel blacklist of over 1,000 people, inclusive of anti-war voices and peace activists. A spokesman for the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA), according to a Nov. 15 report on Salon.com, said, “We have a list of about 1,000 people. The 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,’ ” he said.

Several anti-war advocates have been denied the right to fly or delayed and subjected to intense scrutiny because of the no-fly list.

“We cannot wage a war against terrorism by undermining the basic principles of the Constitution and the rule of law, such as free speech and due process,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Washington-D.C. based Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.

“The Homeland Security Act gives the administration an inordinate amount of power without transparency. So many things can be done that override civil rights and civil liberties. When Blacks, for instance, speak out about economic issues, they will be told that they are undermining the government,” he predicted.

It will be years, analysts predict, before changes in the government reorganization fully come to fruition. Still there are disturbing signs of where the increased security, scrutiny and surveillance are going.

The ACLU Nov. 14 called on President Bush to scrap a new Pentagon system that would be able to track every Americans activities.

“If the Pentagon has its way, every American, from the Nebraskan farmer to the Wall Street banker, will find themselves under the accusatory cyber-stare of an all-powerful national security apparatus,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s national office in Washington, D.C.

Under “Total Information Awareness,” Pentagon researchers are crafting the most extensive electronic surveillance system in history. It would take existing technology used by corporations to track consumer buying habits and collate vast amounts of information to predict future behavior in a national security context.

That means using “data-mining” to link commercial and government databases inside the U.S. and overseas to cull patterns that might indicate potential terrorist activity. But it would presumably also include everything from student grades to mental health histories and travel records.

Former Reagan administration official John Poindexter is in charge of the project.

The Pentagon project will take data-mining into a “totally untested” arena, the ACLU said. Mr. Bush should stop the program now, said the group. “And if he refuses to act, Congress should step in quickly to pull the plug on this dangerous idea,” said ACLU legislative counsel Katie Corrigan.

But with the Congress in Republican hands and Democrats having nightmares of being called lax on national security, who will have the moral strength to challenge the president and the political strength to win?

(Richard Muhammad and Saeed Shabazz contributed to this report.)