Scuba Shops, The FBI, and Militant Sheep

This article (New York Times, free registration required) brings us an interesting look at some of the tactics used by the FBI of late in the so-called war on terrorism.  From what we’re seeing, it looks more like a war on American citizens’ privacy and security.

This spring the FBI began demanding records from dive shops on all people who had taken scuba training.  Most shops meekly complied with their demands, despite the fact that FBI had no actual legal authority to obtain those records.  In one case, however, the owners of the Reef Seekers Dive Company in Beverly Hills, CA (who appear to have a better understanding of the limits of government than the rest of their peers) refused to hand over their records, even when faced with a federal subpoena.

Faced with defending the request before a judge, the prosecutor handling the matter notified Reef Seekers’ lawyer that he was withdrawing the subpoena. The company’s records stayed put.

“We’re just a small business trying to make a living, and I do not relish the idea of standing up against the F.B.I.,” said Ken Kurtis, one of the owners of Reef Seekers. “But I think somebody’s got to do it.”

All it takes is for each of us to stand up for our rights and to demand that the government follow the rules, rather than submit like meek little sheep.

The article goes on to mention the “wall” that has been put up to prevent police agencies from spying on people without some reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.  In many cases, those who would like to break down the “wall” of civil liberties seem so intent on their little pet cause that they forget what they’re destroying.  I think that it was best said by Jethro Eisenstein, one of the lawyers who negotiated the original consent decree with New York City that prevents them from spying on people when there is no evidence of criminal activity:

“We’re protecting freedom and democracy, but unfortunately freedom and democracy have to be sacrificed.”

In any event, the government already has all the tools it needs.  Its real problem is that it can’t get its crap together:

A joint Congressional inquiry into intelligence failures before Sept. 11 concluded that the failures had less to do with the inability of authorities to gather information than with their inability to analyze, understand, share and act on it.

“The lesson of Moussaoui was that F.B.I. headquarters was telling the field office the wrong advice,” said Eleanor Hill, staff director of the inquiry. “Fixing what happened in this case is not inconsistent with preserving civil liberties.”


“The idea that data mining of some vast collection of databases of consumer activity is going to deliver usable alerts of terrorist activities is sheer credulity on a massive scale,” said Jason Catlett of the Junkbusters Corporation, a privacy advocacy business. The data mining companies, Mr. Catlett added, are “mostly selling good old-fashioned snake oil.”

Finally, back to Reef Seekers:

The owners of Reef Seekers say they had lots of reasons to turn down the F.B.I. The name-gathering made little sense to begin with, they say, because terrorists would need training far beyond recreational scuba lessons. They also worried that the new law would allow the F.B.I. to pass its client records to other agencies.

When word of their revolt got around, said Bill Wright, one of the owners, one man called Reef Seekers to applaud it, saying, “My 15-year-old daughter has taken diving lessons, and I don’t want her records going to the F.B.I.”

He was in a distinct minority, Mr. Wright said. Several other callers said they hoped the shop would be the next target of a terrorist bombing.

Damn, what kind of demented, militant sheep are we producing in this country these days?  What kind of fool would say such a thing?  I guess the government-run indoctrination centers (a.k.a schools) are fulfilling their purpose.

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