The Terror of Pre-Crime

Danielle Ni Dhighe nidhighe at
Sat Aug 31 14:56:31 MDT 2002

The Progressive
September 2002

The Terror of Pre-Crime
By Nat Hentoff

John Ashcroft recently released his guidelines for investigating
people he suspects as terrorists, and these guidelines exceed even J.
Edgar Hoover's contempt for due process.

Activists particularly--and I expect the term applies to a good many
readers of The Progressive--should know what may well be in store for
them. On page three of "The Attorney General's Guidelines on General
Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise and Terrorism Enterprise
Investigations," we are told: "A terrorism enterprise investigation
may be initiated when facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that
two or more persons are engaged in an enterprise for the purpose
of . . . furthering political or social goals wholly or in part
through activities that involve force or violence and a federal
crime . . ."

Note the use of "reasonably" and "wholly or in part." These
insidiously malleable guidelines for terrorism investigations could
apply to political action (and the reaction) during demonstrations by
environmentalists, anti-globalizationists, animal rights pickets, or
union members on strike, as well as pro-lifers trying to talk, and
only to talk, to women entering abortion clinics ("obstruction" at
clinics can be a federal crime).

The guidelines go on to note that "the 'reasonable indication'
standard for commencing a terrorism enterprise investigation is . . .
substantially lower than probable cause." It is so low it could be
part of the new Steven Spielberg-Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report,
which envisions the nabbing of "pre-criminals." As The Washington
Times puts it, such pre-criminals are convicted "before they ever act
on, or, in some cases, are even aware of, their murderous designs."

On page four of the Ashcroft Guidelines: "The nature of the conduct
engaged in by a [terrorist] enterprise will justify an inference that
the standard [for opening a criminal intelligence investigation] is
satisfied, even if there are no known statements by participants that
advocate or indicate planning for violence or other prohibited acts."

The Attorney General, furthermore, extends the dragnet to make
individuals in a group under suspicion responsible for what other
members say or write: "A group's activities and the statements of its
members may properly be considered in conjunction with each other. A
combination of statements and activities may justify a determination
that the threshold standard for a terrorism investigation is
satisfied, even if the statements alone or the activities alone would
not warrant such a determination."

Also indicating the "pre-crime" mindset of Attorney General Ashcroft
is the following paragraph. "While no particular factor or
combination of factors is required, considerations that will
generally be relevant whether the threshold standard for a terrorism
investigation is satisfied includes as noted, a group's statements,
its activities, and the nature of potential federal law violations
suggested by its statements or its activities."

Keep in mind the massive, pervasive electronic surveillance--with
minimal judicial supervision under the USA Patriot Act--of
inferential "pre-crime" conversations and messages, both sent and
received. Add to that the FBI's power, under the same law, to break
into your home or office, with a warrant, while you're not there, and
inset "The Magic Lantern" into your computer to record every one of
your keystrokes, including those not sent. Then add the Patriot Act's
allowing the FBI to command bookstores and libraries to reveal the
books bought or read by potential domestic terrorists.

You may now appreciate the prophecy of Senator Frank Church--who was
instrumental in exposing the constitutional crimes of J. Edgar
Hoover's Cointelpro operation--when he said in 1975 that future
government intelligence capabilities could "at any time be turned
around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy
left--such is the capacity to monitor everything, telephone
conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter." And that was before the
omnivorous, permeable Internet. The Web can be a spider web.

Senator Church, referring to "potential" enemies of the state,
warned: "There would be no way to fight back because the most careful
effort to combine together resistance to the government, no matter
how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to

There is still time to fight back.

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