"Before September 11th, I think people would be very offended to think that they could be tracked in a theme park," said Feng Chi Wang, president of MetaSignal Inc. "People are more giving now in terms of their civil liberties." -- Associated Press, 16 November 2001"You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest). You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act." -- Mike Van Winkle, Anti-Terrorism Information Center, California Department of Justice, 2 April 2003
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, 1759 Historical Review of Pennsylvania
It has been widely noted that both "the American intelligence community" (approximately 15 different agencies) and the various military and civilian agencies in charge of fighting terrorism (at least 40 of them) utterly failed to anticipate, prevent or minimize the severity of the devastating terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets in New York City and Washington, D.C., on 11 September 2001, despite the facts that every year the United States spends approximately $30 billion on intelligence-gathering and analysis, and another $11 billion on counter-terrorism.
(We're aware that it's quite possible that this "intelligence failure" wasn't as complete as it appears. Perhaps a few of these agencies collected pertinent raw data that was ignored or misplaced or wasn't processed or acted upon quickly enough to prevent the disaster from taking place. Perhaps a few of them received tip-offs or warnings that weren't acted upon quickly enough or were ignored. Unfortunately, it's also possible that there was in fact no intelligence failure at all. It's possible that a few of these agencies -- or a few "rogue" elements in a one agency or in several agencies -- knew about the attack in advance and did nothing to stop it because they helped to plan it, sympathized with its targets, goals and/or motives, were ordered by higher ups to do nothing or were the victims of a "triple cross." In sum, it's difficult to discount the possibility of a cover-up of some kind. Nevertheless, in what follows, we assume that no cover-up has taken place.)
But the "feds" weren't the only ones taken by surprise on 11 September 2001. So were the New York Police Department (NYPD), which of course maintains at least one "Intelligence Division," and all of the security firms that had clients at the World Trade Center (WTC) complex. There's an important parallel to be drawn here: in the same way that the CIA and the National Security Administration (NSA) have devoted far too much of their money, time and personnel to intercepting electronic communications and using satellites to take increasingly sophisticated photographs, the NYPD and the city's numerous security firms have devoted far too much of their money, time and personnel to laptop computers, digital radios, microwave transmitters and surveillance cameras. It might be said of both the CIA and the NYPD that -- if the taxpayers agree to continue funding them -- they (the CIA and the NYPD) should assign more agents to "the field," to "walking a beat" -- and leave the hi-tech spy gadgetry alone.
The New York Surveillance Camera Players (NY SCP) can report from first-hand experience that, prior to the attacks, there were so many surveillance cameras in operation in the WTC area that their locations couldn't possibly be counted or mapped out, at least, that is, using the simple tools available to the NY SCP. No doubt some of these cameras were installed and operated by the FBI (and the CIA too?) in the wake of the first terrorist attack on the WTC in 1993; most of them were probably installed and operated by either the NYPD or security firms hired by the WTC or the businesses that rented space in it. None of these surveillance cameras did what they were supposed to do: anticipate or prevent another attack; provide security; keep thousands of people safe from harm. Like the NSA's orbiting satellites, surveillance cameras are a colossal waste of money.
And so, for the NY SCP, nothing has changed since 11 September 2001. As we announced on 13 September 2001, the position of the group remains the same as it was prior to the attacks. We are unconditionally opposed to the installation of any and all surveillance devices in public places. Surveillance cameras did not and will never prevent a major crime or terrorist attack. It is clear to us that the problems -- of crime, of terrorism -- must be solved in other ways. (As for hate-mail, we won't let it bother us.)
11 September 2001 wasn't the first time that surveillance cameras failed to do anything but violate basic human rights. In countries such as England, where the authorities keep accurate and complete records of the number of arrests and convictions that can reliably be ascribed to the use of surveillance cameras, the results are clear. Either the criminals simply move out of the sight of the cameras or the police arrive on the scene too late to make an arrest. Note well the following news report from Scotland, dated 27th August 2001.
CCTV fails to cut crime rate
Increases in fighting and abusive behaviour in an East Lothian town have cast doubt on the effectiveness of closed circuit television. Traders in Haddington said the CCTV [closed circuit television] system had done little to reduce incidents of drug dealing and abuse in the area. Police were called out last weekend after a report of a youth in a white car "driving like crazy" in the town centre. However, when police attended the scene, the trouble had stopped and no-one was willing to come forward. In a second incident, police were called to a fight outside the Gardener's Arms public house, but when they arrived the people involved had dispersed. The criticism comes as a review of CCTV systems in East Lothian is under way. Traders are [expressing] disappointment the CCTV has not done more to prevent crime. One said it had produced "little result".
It is only in American cities, where accurate and complete records of the number of CCTV-derived arrests and convictions are not kept, that there is "evidence" that surveillance cameras are effective crime-fighting tools. (This putative evidence almost always consists of a handful of spectacular anecdotes in which surveillance cameras led to the capture of the criminal.) In the words of the principal of an elementary school at which CCTV systems were installed in the wake of the Columbine shootings, the value of such systems is merely "cosmetic," something to reassure insurance companies and prospective clients that "everything" has been done to prevent a reoccurrence.
Tragedies spawn safety, design changes (August 27, 2001)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- At Columbine High School this fall, teachers can look forward to emergency response drills and crisis management guides. In a few weeks, a "threat assessment manual" prepared by the Secret Service arrives [...] Across the nation, schools have reacted to campus shootings with a mix of tightened security and old-fashioned nurturing. Metal detectors, video cameras and 24-hour hot lines are going into operation [...] Joe Pizza, principal of Silver Bay Elementary School in Toms River, New Jersey, said his school has a video camera trained on visitors as they pass through the front door. "Even though the security camera is more cosmetic than anything else, it does give parents peace of mind," he said.
And yet, in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, the TV screens, newspapers and computer terminals of New York City and the rest of America are filled with irrational calls for the installation of more surveillance cameras and for the increased use of face recognition software to "enhance" the performance of these cameras. (There have also been calls for spending even more money on the CIA, the NSA and the FBI, so that these "under-funded" agencies can make more expensive versions of the same mistakes they made prior to 11 September 2001!) In the 16 September 2001 issue of The New York Times, our old friend, ex-Chief of the NYPD Howard Safir, was described as being in favor of the "installation of 100 or so [more] surveillance cameras in Times Square." (It's unfortunate that the reporter from The Times didn't ask Safir how many cameras are already installed there, because the matter is the subject of some conjecture.) These new cameras, Safir was reported to have said, "should be integrated with biometric facial imaging software, allowing the images of all pedestrians to be compared with photographs of known terrorists."
Quite obviously, such a system couldn't possibly work, that is, couldn't prevent a suicide bomber from attacking Times Square. Some terrorists live in areas of the world in which cameras are uncommon, rarely used or even condemned for the graven images they produce, and so find it that much easier to avoid being photographed in the first place. As a result, the only photographs of "known terrorists" that come into the possession of the CIA, FBI or NYPD are either photographs of the leaders and masterminds, who rarely (if ever) engage in suicide attacks, or photographs of the followers, who are of course killed during the attack(s). In either case, such photographs -- whether they are entered into a digital database or not -- are completely useless. Safir's proposal also fails to take account of the simple fact that any surveillance camera installed in Times Square would have to face downwards, towards the ground. (Certainly that is the direction in which the existing cameras face.) And, as we all know, the attacks on the WTC didn't come from ground level, but from the air.
Now, it's quite possible that a future attack on Times Square could come from the ground, i.e., from a bomb hidden in and transported by a car, van or truck. According to The New York Times, Safir himself seems to realize this, and that the only way to prevent such an attack from taking place would be to ban all automobiles from the area.
But Howard Safir, the former New York City police commissioner who is now consultant to the chairman of ChoicePoint, a security information company, warned of embracing a "bunker, bomb-camp mind-set." While acknowledging, for example, that turning Times Square into a pedestrian mall might be the most effective countermeasure to car bombs, he said that such a step would only signal defeat. "That's basically caving to terrorism," he said.
How wrong he is! Filling Times Square with computer-enhanced surveillance cameras -- now that is "caving [in] to terrorism"! But turning the area into a pedestrian mall -- it would "signal" an honest awareness of the obvious fact that automobile traffic is literally killing New York City. Once confined to obscure minds, this awareness has apparently spread to New York City's traffic planners, who have recently expanded the pedestrian areas in Times Square, not reduced them. (Howard Safir doesn't seem to know this.) And so, turning Times Square into a pedestrian zone would not only make it a safer place, but a more pleasant one as well!
And what about face recognition software? In the words of Bruce Schneier, founder and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc.,
Suppose this magically effective face-recognition software is 99.99 percent accurate. That is, if someone is a terrorist, there is a 99.99 percent chance that the software indicates "terrorist," and if someone is not a terrorist, there is a 99.99 percent chance that the software indicates "non-terrorist." Assume that one in ten million flyers, on average, is a terrorist. Is the software any good?
No. The software will generate 1000 false alarms for every one real terrorist. And every false alarm still means that all the security people go through all of their security procedures. Because the population of non-terrorists is so much larger than the number of terrorists, the test is useless. This result is counterintuitive and surprising, but it is correct. The false alarms in this kind of system render it mostly useless. It's "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" increased 1000-fold.
I say mostly useless, because it would have some positive effect. Once in a while, the system would correctly finger a frequent-flyer terrorist. But it's a system that has enormous costs: money to install, manpower to run, inconvenience to the millions of people incorrectly identified, successful lawsuits by some of those people, and a continued erosion of our civil liberties. And all the false alarms will inevitably lead those managing the system to distrust its results, leading to sloppiness and potentially costly mistakes. Ubiquitous harvesting of biometrics might sound like a good idea, but I just don't think it's worth it.
So what's with up people like Howard Safir and those who would "fight terrorism" by spending more money on surveillance cameras and the agencies that put so much faith in them? Why aren't people like Safir learning from history? Why are they proposing more of the same instead of admitting the obvious, which is that these schemes just don't work and that new "radical" ones have to be tried? Is it because they are incapable of logic or just plain stupid? Listen to people like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield and so-called "President" George W. Bush: like Mr. Safir, these are stupid men, in way over their heads. But this doesn't fully explain why they are consciously putting forth proposals that obviously won't work.
The answer would appear to be that they are in fact not really concerned with fighting terrorism or crime, but instead with strengthening their hold on American society. The war criminals and convicted felons who now speak on TV without fear of being remembered for what they did in the 1970s and 1980s (the Henry Kissingers, Robert McFarlanes and Ed Meeses of the world); the pro-death penalty head of the newly founded Office of Homeland Security (a perfectly Orwellian name!); those dour Christian soldiers trying to ram through Congress the draconian Mobilization Against Terrorism Act of 2001 -- their enemies are not "international terrorists," but ordinary citizens of this putatively democratic society, people who already are or might soon become political opponents or domestic dissidents. The "new" war against terrorism is nothing more than an opportunistic justification for the same old war that's been going on in this country for decades, at least since the political assassinations of the 1960s: the military-industrial establishment's war for control of the hearts and minds of the American people. Note well "Administration Urges Passage of Trade Negotiating Bill as Blow to Terrorism," which was published on 24 September 2001 by the Associated Press.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The administration began a new drive Monday to persuade Congress to grant President Bush the authority to negotiate trade agreements, telling lawmakers passage would help the fight against global terrorism.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said supporters of legislation to let the president negotiate a hemisphere-wide free trade agreement and a new round of global trade talks should know within two weeks whether the votes are there for passage in the House.
Zoellick said the legislation would serve as a major signal that the United States does not plan to retreat from its global responsibilities, including defense of free trade against terrorist threats and opponents of globalization.
"On Sept. 11, America, its open society and its ideas came under attack by a malevolence that craves our panic, retreat and abdication of global leadership," Zoellick said in a speech promoting benefits of free trade.
"This president and this administration will fight for open markets. We will not be intimidated by those who have taken to the streets to blame trade - and America - for the world's ills," he said. "The global trading system has demonstrated, from Seoul to Santiago, that it is a pathway out of poverty and despair."
Just two weeks after the disaster, we are no longer talking about terrorism, Osama Bin Laden and other militant Islamic fundamentalists, but instead about "opponents of globalization" and those who choose to exercise their constitutionally protected rights to assemble and speak freely at large and colorful street rallies, marches and demonstrations. But just because anti-American terrorists are (also) anti-globalization doesn't mean that anti-globalization activists are terrorists! Far from it. As the example of Genoa recently demonstrated, if there are any "terrorists" present at anti-globalization demonstrations, they have been brought there, encouraged and protected afterwards by fascists at the highest levels of government.
It's obviously no coincidence that Zoellick made these ominous statements just one week before the World Bank and the International Money Fund were scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C. Though these meetings have been postponed due to the 11 September 2001 attacks -- they had originally been shortened from one week to two days because of the size and strength of the opposition to the meetings of the G-8 held in Genoa, Italy, on 20-23 July 2001 -- some of the groups that had planned to demonstrate in the streets against the meetings have decided to go to Washington anyway and demonstrate against the "war on terrorism." People like Zoellick obviously want to make sure that their meetings won't ever again be disrupted by tens even hundreds of thousands of protesters, and they (Zoellick and his ilk) aren't above employing paranoia, calumny and political crime to get what they want.
And so we propose that, instead of being allowed to wage war against the people who allegedly attacked it, the government of the United States -- a rogue known for "going its own way" on such matters as the Kyoto climate accords, the "Star Wars" missile defense system and the embargo of Cuba -- should be constrained to join the rest of the world. The US government should ask the World Court to convene a special session at which all those who believe that they have legitimate grievances against the United States and/or its military forces can be heard. The judges at these trials should have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents, and conduct thorough and unimpeded investigations into the charges brought before it. And, if and when it turns out that prominent American political leaders have in fact committed crimes against humanity, they should be properly punished, no matter who they are. We have faith that, when justice is finally done, there will no longer be popular support for whatever terrorists continue to operate.
If our proposal seems naive or "impossible to put into practice" -- if it seems at odds with "the way things are," or, rather, "the way things will have to be after 11 September 2001" -- this only proves how important it is to change everything.
28 September 2001
Updated 24 November 2001
Epigraph added 18 May 2003
Contact the NY Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org
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