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Protected From Who?

Federal clampdown isn't fighting terrorism -- it is terrorism

Attention terrorists! Want to get a bomb or gun into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center? Here's how to do it. Wear a trench coat or jacket of some sort. Hide your bomb or gun in your coat. Then carry a bag with you for the security guard to search. He'll search your bag, but he won't check your coat because, well, because they never do. Proceed and detonate.

Had a terrorist watched people go through the Government Center's security checkpoint for a few minutes, he could have figured this out for himself, so the above was probably an insult to the intelligence of terrorists everywhere. But the remote possibility that terrorists would blow up the Government Center scares me far less than the idea that new Justice Department guidelines announced last week would allow the FBI to hack into my computer because I just published advice on how terrorists could blow up the Government Center.

The guidelines will allow domestic spying by the FBI without the agency first receiving an outside complaint about possible criminal activity by a group. This means the FBI will now be able to spy on churches, hack into your email or hack into your financial files if some bureaucrat somewhere decides that you're dangerous for some reason -- a reason they will not be required to disclose to you.

But they're going to protect us, they say. From what? I think average Americans need protection from them. Think about this for a minute. Government officials have yet to explain how recent power grabs and the rape of our civil liberties would have stopped the September 11 tragedy. Think about the pattern here for a minute. The federal government has taken over screening of baggage at airports, even though the box cutters terrorists used to hijack the planes weren't forbidden contraband for transport on airplanes and no rational argument could be made that more attentive screeners could have prevented September 11. After taking over this function, the feds refused to discriminate against new screeners based on country of origin, education level and in some cases even past criminal history. So, in typical government fashion, all that has been accomplished is to pay stupid people more for doing a crappy job.

Now the FBI wants to reward the bureaucratic incompetence that resulted in the brushing aside of known details about terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks by giving intelligence agencies legal access to our computers, our homes and to any data kept about us by private companies. This includes your financial records, health records, travel records and anything else about you that is kept electronically. But they didn't need that access to have possibly stopped the murder of thousands of people on September 11 -- the FBI and CIA just needed to read and forward the constitutionally acquired information that was sitting there in their own files.

There's a common thread here that's disturbing. The federal government is hardly doing all it legally can to protect us from terrorism, but it is doing everything it can to grab more power over us. Our borders are so shoddily protected that a group of armed private citizens has begun patrolling the border between Texas and Mexico as a form of protest. At present, the INS has 300,000 illegal aliens scheduled for deportation that it can't find. When the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) orders an alien deported, they send them a letter asking them to report for deportation. Over 95 percent fail to report. To the frustration of many agents, most disappear.

We've rendered our pilots helpless by refusing to allow them to arm themselves, even though we've not even come close to putting armed air marshals on every flight " so what happened to that idea? In North Carolina, as in many other states, one does not have to prove legal US residency to get a driver's license or state ID, which is why officers regularly collect evidence of multiple identities on the same person, and are often unsure that the person they have arrested is actually who they claim to be.

But the government wants us to believe that it is going to protect us. From whom? Is the FBI going to protect us from someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., whom it spied on 27 years ago under guidelines similar to the ones reinstated last week? Or will some future Janet Reno use these powers against people like the religious wackos at Waco or the rednecks of Ruby Ridge? Or maybe if it's a conservative administration, it will be the leaders of the pro-choice movement whose private lives are picked over.

Make no mistake about it. For those in high places in the federal government, this isn't about terror. It's about power. And that's what's really terrifying. *

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