This week, in case you missed it, the federal government announced the creation of yet another citizen war reserve organization. FEMA Corps will be a unit of 1,600 from AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps who are solely devoted to FEMA disaster response and recovery. On the surface, it sounds great. But the surface is way too glossy.
Ever since the Presidential Task Force on Citizen Preparedness in the War on Terrorism, established by George W. Bush just weeks after 9/11; and Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information Prevention System) established in 2002 and then scaled back the same year, the federal government has been struggling with the question of public involvement and mobilization in the war on terror.
In the ways of bureaucracy, every agency of the Department of Homeland Security, and every other department – from the Department of Agriculture to the FBI have jumped on the bandwagon, and more than two dozen “public-private” partnerships have been created since 9/11. The NSA has its network of research affiliates in the private sectors coding to its specifications to enhance cyber security against outsiders. The Director of National Intelligence even opened its own Office of Private Sector Partnerships in 2009. These are not contracts or contractors, though money does flow from the federal government and the cumulative effort I’m sure is a pretty penny from our pockets.
These are volunteer organizations, voluntary efforts, that is, if you think that standing up and singing the national anthem at a public event is optional.
I’ve already written about “whole-of-society” efforts by Northern Command (NORTHCOM) to do its version of nation building on the homeland battlefield and I’m trying to wrap my head around what this boundless effort means. There are, of course, the standard concerns of privacy, civil liberties, and even the hopeless Washington preoccupation with ‘fraud, waste, and abuse’ (which I liken to the medical establishment’s declaring war on microbes), but somewhere I fear there is also a fundamental reordering of American society, one that places too much emphasis on national security and one that puts too much power into the hands of the federal government.
But most important, in enlisting certain segments of society, people of a certain predilection, many others are left behind. As a commenter said yesterday in response to my blog, the missions and capabilities of organizations become “predestined” by their very structure. So after the people who are predisposed to be volunteer firemen, after the businesses that are part of the so-called critical infrastructure cluster under the government umbrella, after ‘good Muslims’ or the civic-minded sign up, the enemy becomes who’s left. Well, at least who’s left is the universe of dots to search for.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the Obama administration’s weird attachment to its “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign, which is the citizen-participation counterpart of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.
On some level, this is just a case of a bunch of Boy Scouts and A-students cleaning up and trying to do better than their predecessors – in other words, cleaning up the paperwork for the same ugly effort and then repackaging it as reformed. But there is also a problem of asking Boy Scouts to run a killing machine.
In the case of See Something, Say Something, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) goes out of its way to assure that it “respects civil rights or civil liberties by emphasizing behavior, rather than appearance, in identifying suspicious activity.” That’s part of the smokescreen of accepting the banality of evil.
So, if you see something that doesn’t have anything to do with race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech, unless it has to do with terrorism – and I’m not joking, that what the DHS says – report it.
Sound kind of hopeless? How is someone supposed to figure out the differences? They aren’t; you can’t. So you either better enlist in the army of common sense or else we’ll make a note of the fact that you didn’t.