In what appears to be another edition of "you're not paranoid enough", the Justice Department has kicked off the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. Suspicious Activity Reporting is its own thing, of course, simply the idea that if someone buys fertilizer, or a lot of hydrogen peroxide, or takes pictures of a building, that that person might be doing those things for nefarious purposes. If they do all three, they might very well be doing those things for nefarious purposes.
The question is, how many things do you report, and who do you report them to?
But now there's an Initiative. Time to get enthusiastic about turning in your fellow citizens!
We've had these sort of concepts before, most recently as the "If You See Something, Say Something!" campaign. How very "Leave It To Beaver" of them.
Now, I'm not a big fan of terrorism. The attacks on 9/11 were horrible, and probably preventable. But since the system we had in place prevented a lot of information from being shared between various parties, and even if they could have shared, they didn't want to, since information is power, and if you own it, you don't just give it away. There was, of course, a certain amount of high-level complacency in the administration at that time as well. While I don't believe the towers were brought down by pre-planted explosives, I'm afraid I have no problem believing that Cheney and others in the Bush administration wanted something to happen, in order to galvanize/terrify the American public into letting them have their way with the country.
This initiative worries me. It essentially sounds like we should all be checking up on anything new or out of the ordinary at all times. If someone does something that's not criminal, but just suspicious, we should report them? I think the worst thing about there not being pay phones anymore is that you can't anonymously turn someone in for buying too much hair gel. Perhaps if I were to buy a cheap pay-as-you-go cellphone, I could have a little fun; but then, of course, it becomes like the Boy Who Cried Terrorist: if I actually saw someone doing something, would the authorities take me seriously?
If you watch Burn Notice long enough, you realize that there are many things you can make with household items that are probably not good for most people to know about. And of course, Fight Club. Gasoline and certain other ingredients in equal quantities is basically napalm.
(no - I'm not going to say what)
So if I see someone going to the Safeway to fill up a gallon can of gas, and then going in and buying a whole bunch of the other thing (a truly innocuous item), do I automatically assume "firebomb"? And what about the old classic, Drano and aluminum foil? Is someone roasting a chicken and unclogging their sink, or are they planning on screwing up the toilets of a bunch of government buildings?
I think Bloom County had one of the best ideas:
I think it's going to be a sad day when eccentric behavior, or photography, or chemical/mechanical experiments in your own home might suddenly become a reason to investigate someone. I've already had the experience where, while taking photos of various objects on one of our local ferries, a guy with no visible signs of authority (except for the gun on his hip) started asking me what I was doing, why I was taking photos, etc. Here I was, being Mr. Eccentric Photographer, and I was suspected of potential terrorism, and if I couldn't come up with a reasonable explanation, they might haul me off to jail and interrogate me further.
I have to wonder, would that be fun? Interesting? Terrifying? If there's a way to document it all without the documentation being compromised, I'd be all over it. Hmmm....