[Marxism] Greg Palast: Fear for Sale

Raymond Chase r_chase at sympatico.ca
Mon May 17 23:29:37 MDT 2004

Fear for Sale
By Greg Palast May 12, 2004

[This article is excerpted from the election edition of Greg Palast's New
York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, out this month from

September 11, 2001, was Derek Smith's lucky day. There were all those pieces
of people to collect-tubes marked "DM" (for "Disaster Manhattan")-from which
his company would extract DNA for victim identification, work for which the
firm would receive $12 million from New York City's government.

I have no doubt that Smith, like the rest of us, grieved, horrified and
heartsick, at the murder of innocent friends and countrymen. As for the
12-million-dollar corpse identification fee, that's chump change to the $4
billion corporation Smith had founded only four years earlier, ChoicePoint
of Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

For ChoicePoint, with its 15-billion-plus records on every living and dying
being in the United States, Ground Zero would become a profit center lined
with gold. Contracts would gush forth from War on Terror fever not hurt by
the fact that ChoicePoint did something for George W. Bush that the voters
would not: select him as our president.

Here's how they did it. Before the 2000 election, Choice-Point unit Database
Technologies, under a $4 million no-bid contract under the control of
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was paid to identify felons who
had illegally registered to vote. The ChoicePoint outfit altogether fingered
94,000 Florida residents. As it turned out, less than 3,000 had a verifiable
criminal record; almost everyone on the list had the right to vote. The tens
of thousands of "purged" citizens had something in common besides their
innocence: The list was, in the majority, made up of African Americans and
Hispanics, overwhelmingly Democratic voters. And that determined the race in
which Harris named Bush the winner by 537 votes.

270 million suspects
But before ChoicePoint's miles of files on Americans could become a wartime
weapon, the United States had to change radically. That change was announced
by President Bush: On September 11, we Americans were the victims of the
terrible attack.

By September 12, we became the suspects.

Not one single U.S. citizen hijacked a plane, yet President Bush and
Attorney General John Ashcroft, through powers seized then codified in the
USA PATRIOT Act, fingered 270 million of us for surveillance, for searches,
for tracking, for watching.

To say that ChoicePoint is in the "data" business is to miss their market
concept utterly: These guys are in the Fear Industry. Secret danger lurks
everywhere. Al Qaeda's just the tip of the iceberg. What about the pizza
delivery boy? ChoicePoint hunted through a sampling of them and announced
that 25 percent had only recently come out of prison. "What pizza do you
like?" asks CEO Smith. "At what price? Are you willing to take the risk?."

ChoicePoint also has a product to calm the fears of mothers panicked by the
stories on Geraldo of child-snatching cults: "ChoicePoint Cares." That's the
name of the corporation's DNA identification program to help reunite kids on
milk cartons with their parents.

Computer Prozac
Underneath ChoicePoint Cares, Ground Zero identi-fication work, and
pizza-man rapist hunts lies the sales pitch of panic. For a jittery nation,
ChoicePoint has the computer Prozac: DNA databases and criminal history
certification so you won't be taken hostage by child-napping hijackers who
deliver your pepperoni-and-double-cheese pie. The company wants to remove
your discomfort at their entry into your bank records and bloodstream; to
convince you to want them to hold the info on you and your children; to
encourage you to think of their recording your every move as protection, not
intrusion, the security of a kindly big brother to watch over you.

ChoicePoint is a little sensitive about its little DNA biz. The company
insisted to my research team that they only track DNA of criminals and
missing kids.

But an insider at ChoicePoint says the chairman told him about a longer-term
plan. "Derek [Smith] said that it is his hope to build a database of DNA
samples from every person in the United States," from birth to death and
beyond linked to all other data on a person. The plan, said the source, is
for now kept under wraps because Smith expects "resistance" from the public.
(Thanks to investigator Eric Boucher for this info. Boucher attracts
informants through his day job as rock star Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys

Until September 11, the Fear Industry had a tough sell. The Berlin Wall was
down and Americans were chillin' through eight years of Clintonian peace and
prosperity. The old liberal notion that more jobs meant less crime tested
true. The national mood was "What, me worry?"

September 11 let the venomed bats out of the cupboard: Total Information
Awareness (TIA), USA PATRIOT, not to mention plans for a couple of wars, all
drafted long before the attack. Seizing on the tragedy, our presi-dent
dusted the bat droppings off these freeze-dried Orwellian schemes and
presented them to America as his swift, bold response to the Threat Out

The Third Ring
In Hollywood, Jack Nicholson picked up the zeitgeist: "If I were an Arab
American I would insist on being profiled. This is not the time for civil
rights." I imagined hardened pillboxes on Malibu beach.

Maybe Jack's right, and we have to trade a couple of freedoms for our
safety. But is our new imitation KGB spending our cyberspy budget to make us
truly safer?

I had hoped so, until a "little birdie" faxed me what appeared to be
confidential pages from ChoicePoint's contract with Mr. John Ashcroft's
Justice Department. A no-bid $67-million deal offered profiles on any
citizen in half a dozen nations. The choice of citizens to spy on caught my
eye. While the September 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon
and the United Arab Emirates, ChoicePoint's menu offered records on
Venezuelans, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, Argentinians and Mexicans.

What do these nations have in common besides a lack of involvement in the
September 11 attacks? Coincidentally, each is in the throes of major
electoral contests in which the leading candidates-presidents Luiz Ignacio
"Lula" da Silva of Brazil, Néstor Kirchner of Argentina and Mexico City
mayor Andres Lopez Obrador-have had the nerve to challenge the globalization
demands of George Bush.

When Mexico discovered ChoicePoint had its citizen files, the nation
threatened company executives with criminal charges. ChoicePoint protested
its innocence and offered to destroy the files of any nation that requests

But ChoicePoint, apparently, presented no such offer to the government of
Venezuela, home of President Hugo Chavez.

Hugo Chávez drives George Bush crazy. Maybe it's jealousy: Unlike Mr. Bush,
Chávez won office by a majority of the vote. Or maybe it's the oil.
Venezuela sits atop a reserve rivaling Iraq's. In Caracas, I showed
Congressman Nicolas Maduro the ChoicePoint-Ashcroft agreement. Maduro, a
leader of Chávez's political party, was unaware that his nation's citizen
files were for sale to U.S. intelligence. But he understood their value to
make mischief.

If the lists somehow fell into the hands of the Venezuelan opposition, it
could im-measurably help their computer-aided drive to recall and remove
Chávez. A Choice-Point flak said the Bush administration told the company
they haven't used the lists that way. The PR man didn't say if the Bush
spooks laughed when they said it. Our team located a $53,000 payment from
our government to Chávez's recall organizers, who claim to be armed with
computer lists of the registered. What was practiced in Florida, without
Choice-Point's knowledge, could be retooled for Venezuela, then Brazil,
Mexico and so on. Is Mr. Bush fighting a war on terror.or a war on

Which brings us to the Third Circle:

That which took shape here is a disguised kind of intelligence.which is
annexed to the third security ring, which is the invisible ring.
The man spoke these words in Spanish, with an American accent, unaware of
the camera. He added a moment later, "We are doing a job and [I trust] he
will not be childish, Mr. `Corey,' and that he will be on the corner saying,
`I am from the CIA, I am from the CIA.'"

I watched this murky video in Vene-zuela's capital. The men caught in the
lens discussing these vague espionage plans worked for Wackenhut
Corporation, Caracas. You may recall Wackenhut, the jails-R-us guys who got
caught running the illicit spying operation on Alaska oil industry

The man who headed Wackenhut's oper-ations in Alaska shifted to Venezuela in
1991 where, according to Spy magazine, he ran a "black" information (i.e.,
disinformation) campaign against the government. Currently, the company has
a contract to protect the U.S. embassy, a delicate job after our State
Department's applauding a coup against the elected Chávez government.

Wackenhut does not deny the authenticity of the Third Ring tape. It was just
"an ordinary meeting of company officials."

And here the darkness descends. Wackenhut says its rent-a-spies acted
legally for a client they cannot name. Is it credible to believe that
Wackenhut, doing sensitive security work for the U.S. ambassador, could
conduct operations, legal or not, which could provoke a foreign power?
Indeed, a plotter on the tape says, "All of you must be invisible with
regard to everything that is related to the American embassy."

What exactly is Wackenhut up to? And how does the Bush crew use or misuse
ChoicePoint's lists of Latin electorates?

Herein lies the danger of this brave new world of the privatization of
spookery: We lose control. By "we," I mean Americans and our elected
representatives. Even in the worst days of the CIA, Senator Frank Church
held hearings and exposed the dangerous rot in our intelligence services. A
special prosecutor went after Ollie North's Iran-Contra gang, which gave
weapons to the Ayatollah. But how do we challenge the new privateers in
espionage who can go for Mr. Ashcroft or Mr. Bush where prudence or the law
tells them not to?

Hacking the Constitution
There are glimmers of ill doings already. The Electronic Privacy Information
Center (EPIC), Washington, sued to obtain Ashcroft-ChoicePoint documents.
The contract-no-bid, of course-remains so secret, even its true cost and
title has been, extraordinarily, withheld. But EPIC found several gems,
including the gushing notes of a government spook who requested that agents
think of "far-out, funky" ways to use data.

More disconcerting was a handwritten note in government files recommending
ChoicePoint for more work because the company "is very responsive to [U.S.]
Marshals Service and has made enhancements to their public information
database.to meet our needs." Uh, oh. If ChoicePoint obtained special info
for Big Brother, then officialdom crossed a legal line. As the privacy
institute's attorney Chris Hoofnagle explains, the law permits the
government to access private databases that are freely available on the
commercial market. But private companies may not create wide-ranging files
on U.S. citizens for the government. In other words, if the FBI can't spy on
Americans without probable cause for suspicion, it can't get around the law
by handing the espionage work to a contractor. It's not a small difference.
The law in question is the Bill of Rights. Those Amendments prohibit our
government from investigating us unless there's reason to believe we are

Courageous federal judge Rosemary Pooler ruled, "As terrible as 911 was, it
didn't repeal the Consitution." But with the privatization of computerized
surveillance, the Constitution can be secretly hacked.

What about Jack Nicholson's point? Screw rights, we want safety. Well, Jack,
we're both old farts who can remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1962, the
Russians were going to drop The Big One on us. But we didn't have to worry,
Mrs. Gordon told us, if we just got under the desk, covered our necks and,
"Don't look at the flash!"

TIA, ChoicePoint's DNA info for the FBI's "CODIS" files, Genoa, data mining,
the Third Ring.it's the new "Duck and Cover." Does this really make America

ChoicePoint's Smith admonishes that, if we'd only had his databases humming
at the airports on September 11, the hijackers, who used their own names,
would have been barred from boarding. However, experts inform me that Osama
no longer checks in as "Mr. bin Laden," even at the cost of losing his
frequent flyer miles.

Nevertheless, our president suggests that, if we can get semen samples from
every American and Venezuelan, take off our shoes at the airport, don't ask
the names of the seized and imprisoned or the price of contracts, we'll be
safe from the Saudi hijackers and baby snatchers and from.them.whoever
"them" are.

Just remember, Don't look at the flash!

[This article is excerpted from the election edition of Greg Palast's New
York Times bestseller The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, out this month from

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