Thursday, January 12, 2012
Did You Know Homeland Security is Monitoring the Internet?
One of the lessons one learns in military basic training is “situational awareness”, a term that reflects the importance of watchfulness in combat. It can mean the difference between life and death. Police practice this as well, looking for people who seem out of place in a neighborhood.
The average citizen blithely ignores this when shopping or just going about their life, though many purchase private monitoring services to protect their homes against fire or theft or put up video surveillance systems to protect their businesses. I doubt there is any public place that does not have television cameras watching.
When it comes to protecting the nation, situational awareness is an essential element to spot a potential individual or group that might pose a danger. There is, of course, the potential for misuse or abuse, but that applies to everything government does.
The upside of such monitoring is contained in a short item from the Heritage Foundation’s January 12 Morning Line dispatch. “His plan was to rip apart nightclubs with explosives, unleash a wave of destruction on bridges, and open fire on police officers—all in sunny Florida. This was the murderous intent of Sami Osmakac, 25, an American citizen from the former Yugoslavia who was determined to spill blood, foment destruction, and bring terror to the United States all in the name of Allah. Fortunately, undercover FBI agents thwarted his efforts, making this the 44th foiled terrorist plot against America."
I am a regular contributor to Harold Wylie’s excellent website, BorderfireReport.net. On a daily basis he gathers news about the effects of illegal immigration and related topics. He recently wrote to say that “my website has been placed on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Operations Center Media Monitoring Initiative.” He learned about this during a visit to World Net Daily.com.
Is this a good or bad thing? Candidly, I thought it was a good thing because it suggests that someone at DHS recognized what an excellent “open source” of information Wylie’s site provides.
A government agency that’s “snooping” on Americans is not likely to issue such a notice and the sites listed represent, in government-speak, the opportunity “to collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture.”
When one considers the billions the government spends on covert intelligence gathering, this is a far cry from “Big Brother.” Simply stated, DHS thinks that Wylie’s his site is performing a valuable service for their own Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement operation.
The cliché is that “being paranoid does not mean someone is not watching you.” There are so many sources of information available to individuals and groups regarding everything about your life that it bodes well to conduct oneself in conformance with common sense and the law. Meanwhile, your credit rating and other data are easily accessible.
Like millions of others I am on Facebook and DHS monitors both it and Spacebook. The occasional nutcase uses these social networks to announce to the world that he or she has bad intentions. Ironically, even DHS is monitored by a site called Cryptome that, according to a Reuters’ news story “periodically posts leaked documents and was one of the first websites to post information related to the Homeland Security monitoring program.”
DHS monitors Jihad Watch and Informed Comment “that cover issues related to Islam through sharp political prisms, which have sometimes led critics to accuse the sites of political bias.” You and I visit sites daily that have a sharp political bias. It’s called freedom of speech and the press.
Ostensibly, the DHS monitors dozens of websites, forums, blogs, and message boards, for the purpose of managing “government responses to such events as the 2010 earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and security and border control related to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.”
This is not to say that government responses are effective, but I am not disturbed by the fact that it wants the “situational awareness” necessary. The fact remains that our nation’s borders are astonishingly—frightenly—porous and in need of far greater enforcement efforts to stem illegal immigration and the potential for threats to public safety. Then there are the Islamic jihadists that want to kill all of us.
It is very American to be suspicious of government monitoring. Ours is an open society and we want to keep it that way. It is also encouraging to know that the Department of Homeland Security is doing what it can to protect us.
© Alan Caruba, 2012