War Gear Flows to Police Departments June 9, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in armaments, Arms, Civil Liberties, Police.
Tags: local police, matt apuzzo, militarization, police, police departments, roger hollander, surplus weapons, swat teams
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Roger’s note: I am reminded of the infamous remark made by Malcolm X when President Kennedy was assassinated: “The chickens have come home to roost.” Local police departments with armored vehicles, machine guns, planes and helicopters, grenade launchers, etc. I wonder what they can be used for. Protecting your home from a burglary? Fraud investigations? Bank hold ups? It seems to me that these weapons are geared towards dealing with large numbers, let’s say perhaps, citizen protests? Please excuse my cynicism, I happen at the moment to be reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and it somehow has a contemporary feel to it.
The 9-foot-tall armored truck was intended for an overseas battlefield. But as President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.
During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.
The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.”
“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have,” said Shay Korittnig, a father of two who spoke against getting the armored truck at a recent public meeting in Neenah. “This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”
A quiet city of about 25,000 people, Neenah has a violent crime rate that is far below the national average. Neenah has not had a homicide in more than five years.
“Somebody has to be the first person to say ‘Why are we doing this?’ ” said William Pollnow Jr., a Neenah city councilman who opposed getting the new police truck.
Neenah’s police chief, Kevin E. Wilkinson, said he understood the concern. At first, he thought the anti-mine truck was too big. But the department’s old armored car could not withstand high-powered gunfire, he said.
“I don’t like it. I wish it were the way it was when I was a kid,” he said. But he said the possibility of violence, however remote, required taking precautions. “We’re not going to go out there as Officer Friendly with no body armor and just a handgun and say ‘Good enough.’ ”
Congress created the military-transfer program in the early 1990s, when violent crime plagued America’s cities and the police felt outgunned by drug gangs. Today, crime has fallen to its lowest levels in a generation, the wars have wound down, and despite current fears, the number of domestic terrorist attacks has declined sharply from the 1960s and 1970s.
Police departments, though, are adding more firepower and military gear than ever. Some, especially in larger cities, have used federal grant money to buy armored cars and other tactical gear. And the free surplus program remains a favorite of many police chiefs who say they could otherwise not afford such equipment. Chief Wilkinson said he expects the police to use the new truck rarely, when the department’s SWAT team faces an armed standoff or serves a warrant on someone believed to be dangerous.
Today, Chief Wilkinson said, the police are trained to move in and save lives during a shooting or standoff, in contrast to a generation ago — before the Columbine High School massacre and others that followed it — when they responded by setting up a perimeter and either negotiating with, or waiting out, the suspect.
The number of SWAT teams has skyrocketed since the 1980s, according to studies by Peter B. Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who has been researching the issue for decades.
The ubiquity of SWAT teams has changed not only the way officers look, but also the way departments view themselves. Recruiting videos feature clips of officers storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons. In Springdale, Ark., a police recruiting video is dominated by SWAT clips, including officers throwing a flash grenade into a house and creeping through a field in camouflage.
In South Carolina, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s website features its SWAT team, dressed in black with guns drawn, flanking an armored vehicle that looks like a tank and has a mounted .50-caliber gun. Capt. Chris Cowan, a department spokesman, said the vehicle “allows the department to stay in step with the criminals who are arming themselves more heavily every day.” He said police officers had taken it to schools and community events, where it was a conversation starter.
“All of a sudden, we start relationships with people,” he said.
Not everyone agrees that there is a need for such vehicles. Ronald E. Teachman, the police chief in South Bend, Ind., said he decided not to request a mine-resistant vehicle for his city. “I go to schools,” he said. “But I bring ‘Green Eggs and Ham.’ ”
The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario. Most people understand, police officers say.
“When you explain that you’re preparing for something that may never happen, they get it,” said Capt. Tiger Parsons of the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office in northwest Missouri, which recently received a mine-resistant truck.
In the Indianapolis suburbs, officers said they needed a mine-resistant vehicle to protect against a possible attack by veterans returning from war.
“You have a lot of people who are coming out of the military that have the ability and knowledge to build I.E.D.’s and to defeat law enforcement techniques,” Sgt. Dan Downing of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department told the local Fox affiliate, referring to improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs. Sergeant Downing did not return a message seeking comment.
The police in 38 states have received silencers, which soldiers use to muffle gunfire during raids and sniper attacks. Lauren Wild, the sheriff in rural Walsh County, N.D., said he saw no need for silencers. When told he had 40 of them for his county of 11,000 people, Sheriff Wild confirmed it with a colleague and said he would look into it. “I don’t recall approving them,” he said.
Some officials are reconsidering their eagerness to take the gear. Last year, the sheriff’s office in Oxford County, Maine, told county officials that it wanted a mine-resistant vehicle because Maine’s western foothills “face a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities.”
County commissioners approved the request, but recently rescinded it at the sheriff’s request. Scott Cole, the county administrator, said some people expressed concerns about the truck, and the police were comfortable that a neighboring community could offer its vehicle in an emergency.
At the Neenah City Council, Mr. Pollnow is pushing for a requirement that the council vote on all equipment transfers. When he asks about the need for military equipment, he said the answer is always the same: It protects police officers.
“Who’s going to be against that? You’re against the police coming home safe at night?” he said. “But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything.”
Chief Wilkinson said he was not interested in militarizing Neenah. But officers are shot, even in small towns. If there were an affordable way to protect his people without the new truck, he would do it.
“I hate having our community divided over a law enforcement issue like this. But we are,” he said. “It drives me to my knees in prayer for the safety of this community every day. And it convinced me that this was the right thing for our community.”
Forced Military Testing in America’s Schools January 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, War.
Tags: arkansas schools, army recutiement, asvab, civil liberties, ecucation, high schools, militarization, military, military recruiting, military recruitment, pat elder, right to privacy, roger hollander
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The invasion of student privacy associated with military testing in U.S. high schools has been well documented by mainstream media sources, like USA Today and NPR Radio. The practice of mandatory testing, however, continues largely unnoticed.
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB is the military’s entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test is also used as a recruiting tool in 12,000 high schools across the country. The 3 hour test is used by military recruiting services to gain sensitive, personal information on more than 660,000 high school students across the country every year, the vast majority of whom are under the age of 18. Students typically are given the test at school without parental knowledge or consent. The school-based ASVAB Career Exploration Program is among the military’s most effective recruiting tools.
In roughly 11,000 high schools where the ASVAB is administered, students are strongly encouraged to take the test for its alleged value as a career exploration tool, but in more than 1,000 schools, according to information received from the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command through a Freedom of Information Act request, tens of thousands of students are required to take it. It is a particularly egregious violation of civil liberties that has been going on almost entirely unnoticed since the late 1960’s.
Federal laws strictly monitor the release of student information, but the military manages to circumvent these laws with the administration of the ASVAB. In fact, ASVAB test results are the only student information that leaves U.S. schools without the opportunity provided for parental consent.
Aside from managing to evade the constraints of federal law, the military may also be violating many state laws on student privacy when it administers the ASVAB in public high schools. Students taking the ASVAB are required to furnish their social security numbers for the tests to be processed, even though many state laws specifically forbid such information being released without parental consent. In addition, the ASVAB requires under-aged students to sign a privacy release statement, a practice that may also be prohibited by many state laws.
A typical school announcement reads, “All Juniors will report to the cafeteria on Monday at 8:10 a.m. to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Whether you’re planning on college, a technical school, or you’re just not sure yet, the ASVAB Career Exploration Program can provide you with important information about your skills, abilities and interests – and help put you on the right course for a satisfying career!” This announcement or one very similar to it greets students in more than a thousand high schools across the country. There’s no mention of the military or the primary purpose of the test, which is to find leads for recruiters.
Imagine you’re Captain Eric W. Johnson, United States Navy, Commander, United States Military Entrance Processing Command and you had the complete cooperation of the Arkansas Department of Education to recruit high school students into the U.S. military. The first step you might take is to require juniors in public high schools to take the ASVAB. ASVAB results are good for enlistment purposes for up to two years. The ASVAB offers a treasure trove of information on students and allows the state’s top recruiter to pre-screen the entire crop of incoming potential recruits. “Sit down, shut up, and take this test. That’s an order!”
142 Arkansas high schools forced 10,000 children to take this military test without parental consent in Arkansas alone last year. “We’ve always done it that way and no one has ever complained,” explained one school counselor.
The Army recruiter’s handbook calls for military recruiters to take ownership of schools and this is one way they’re doing it. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command ranks each high school based on how receptive it is to military recruiters. Schools are awarded extra points when they make the ASVAB mandatory. (See page 25 of: USAREC pub. 601-107)
Meanwhile, military recruiting regulations specifically prohibit that the test from being made mandatory.
“Voluntary aspect of the student ASVAB: School and student participation in the Student Testing Program is voluntary. DOD personnel are prohibited from suggesting to school officials or any other influential individual or group that the test be made mandatory. Schools will be encouraged to recommend most students participate in the ASVAB Career Exploration Program. If the school requires all students of a particular group or grade to test, the MEPS will support it.” (See Page 3-1 of USMEPCOM Reg. 601-4)
Is it entirely coincidental that a thousand schools require students to take the test or does the Department of Defense have regulations in place solely for public consumption that it has no intention of following?
In addition, the Pentagon is grossly under reporting the number of schools with mandatory testing. There are hundreds of schools with required testing that are not reported by the DoD. For instance, the information released by the DoD for the ’09-’10 school year shows there is no mandatory testing in Ohio. However, it is possible, using a simple Google search tool, in this case (“k12.oh.us” asvab “all juniors”) to uncover several dozen schools that require students to take the ASVAB that are not reported by the Pentagon.
Why can’t we get traction on this issue?
There is great reluctance in American society to stand up to the U.S. military, particularly concerning the way it runs a dozen programs in the nation’s schools. Calls for transparency are met with silence and indignation, a terrible lesson for American high school students.
Local Police Stockpile High-Tech, Combat-Ready Gear December 22, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Occupy Wall Street Movement, War on Terror.
Tags: #occupy movement, andrew becker, fargo, g.w. schulz, Homeland Security, local police, militarization, n.d., police, police brutality, police departments, s.w.a.t., swat team, terrorism, war on terror
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Published on Thursday, December 22, 2011 by Center for Investigative Reporting
If terrorists ever target Fargo, N.D., the local police will be ready.
Atlanta Police S.W.A.T. members searched a building for a shooting suspect in July of 2010. More than ever before, police rely on quasi-military tactics and equipment, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found. (John Bazemore) In recent years, they have bought bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers in foreign wars. For local siege situations requiring real firepower, police there can use a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. Until that day, however, the menacing truck is mostly used for training runs and appearances at the annual Fargo picnic, where it’s been displayed near a children’s bounce house.
“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” said Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”
Fargo, like thousands of other communities in every state, has been on a gear-buying spree with the aid of more than $34 billion in federal government grants since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
The federal grant spending, awarded with little oversight from Washington, has fueled a rapid, broad transformation of police operations in Fargo and in departments across the country. More than ever before, police rely on quasi-military tactics and equipment, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.
Since Occupy Wall Street and similar protests broke out this fall, confusion about how to respond has landed some police departments in national headlines for electing to use intimidating riot gear, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Observers have decried these aggressive tactics as more evidence that police are overly militarized. Among them is former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who today regrets his “militaristic” answer in 1999 to the infamous “Battle in Seattle” protests.
Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The list of equipment bought with the federal grants reads like a defense contractor catalog. High-tech gear fills the garages, locker rooms and patrol cars in departments across the country.
Although local officials say they have become more cautious about spending in recent years, police departments around the country are continually expanding the equipment and tactics of their jobs, despite, in many cases, the lack of an apparent need.
The share of federal grants for Fargo and the county it anchors is more than $8 million, a considerable sum for terrorism defense given its remote location and status as one of the safest areas in America. Fargo has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there have been no prosecutions of international terrorism in the state for at least a decade, if ever.
North Dakota’s biggest city is a humble place set on plains so flat that locals like to say you can watch your dog run away for two weeks. Yet all patrol officers in Fargo now carry an assault rifle in their squad car.
Fargo police Lt. Ross Renner, who commands a regional SWAT team, said the world is a dangerous place, and the city wants to be ready for anything.
With that in mind, Renner pushed for military-style assault rifles to become standard issue in department patrol cars.
“It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected,” Renner said. “We don’t have every-day threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”
Other communities also have ramped up as well. In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone. In Garland County, Ark., known for its pleasant hot springs, a local law enforcement agency acquired four handheld bulletproof protective shields costing $600 each. In East Baton Rouge, La., it was $400 ballistic helmets. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. And for police in Des Moines, Iowa, it was two $180,000 bomb robots.
Homeland security and law enforcement officials say the expenditures and modern training have helped save civilian and police lives. Do the armored vehicles and combat dress produce a sort of “shock and awe” effect? Lt. Jeremy Clark of the West Hartford Police Department in Connecticut hopes so. He said it can persuade suspects to give up sooner.
“The only time I hear the complaint of ‘God, you guys look scary’ is if the incident turns out to be nothing,” said Clark, who organizes an annual SWAT competition.
But the gear also can be used for heavy-handed – even excessive – tactics. In one case, dozens of officers in combat-style gear raided a rave in Utah as a police helicopter buzzed overhead. An online video shows the battle-ready team wearing masks and brandishing rifles as they holler for the music to be shut off and pin partygoers to the ground.
Arizona tactical officers this year sprayed the home of ex-Marine Jose Guerena with gunfire as the man stood in a hallway with a rifle that he did not shoot [PDF]. He was hit 22 times and died. Police had targeted the man’s older brother in a narcotics-trafficking probe, but nothing illegal was found in the younger Guerena’s home, and no related arrests had been made months after the raid.
Police say greater firepower and more protective equipment became increasingly necessary not only as everyday criminals obtained deadlier weapons, but also in response to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks. They point to a 1997 Los Angeles-area shootout with heavily armed bank robbers and the bloody 2008 shooting and bombing attack in Mumbai, India, which left 164 people dead and 300 wounded.
Every community in the country has some explanation for why it needs more money, not less, to protect against every conceivable threat. It could be a shooting rampage at an amusement park, a weapon of mass destruction hidden at a manufacturing plant, a nuclear device detonated at a major coastal port. Nothing short of absolute security seems acceptable.
“The argument for up-armoring is always based on the least likely of terrorist scenarios,” said Mark Randol, a former terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service. “Anyone can get a gun and shoot up stuff. No amount of SWAT equipment can stop that.”
Law enforcement leaders nonetheless bristle at the word “militarization,” even if the defense community itself acknowledges a convergence of the two.
“I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society,” said former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, now chairman of Kroll Inc., the security consulting firm. “And we are a gun-crazy society.”
SWAT competition underscores training
They appear on a grainy video in slow motion, wearing battle fatigues, helmets and multi-pocketed vests.
Figures move through the scene as though on a mission. One large man with a pistol strapped to his hip swings a battering ram into a door. A colleague shoots a flash-bang grenade into a field. A third man points an assault rifle into the distance, peering at his target through a scope. A fourth, holding a pistol and wearing a rifle strapped to his back, peeks cautiously inside a bus.
The images unfold to the pulsing, ominous soundtrack of a popular video game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.”
These are not soldiers in a far-flung warzone. They are members of the Massachusetts State Police competing at a SWAT team competition in Connecticut. The video, posted on YouTube, underscores the training and devotion tactical officers bring to their jobs. It also illustrates the level of force police units across the country can now deliver.
The annual Connecticut SWAT Challenge, hosted by the West Hartford Police Department, is one of numerous contests and exercises that have flourished since the terrorist attacks, as ultra-equipped, better-trained units sought to enhance their skills. The number of participating units more than doubled in five years, to nearly 40 teams by 2009, and dozens of sponsors seek to ensure their products and logos are on display.
One such sponsor sells ThunderSledge breaching tools for smashing open locked or chained doors. Another, Lenco Armored Vehicles, assembles black, bulletproof box-like trucks on oversized wheels that can fit up to 15 officers. Options include radiation detectors and hydraulic rams. KDH Defense Systems markets body armor to police that matches protection “used by some of the world’s most elite warfighters.”
Clark, of the West Hartford police, says he started the competition precisely because of the new counterterrorism spending. State and local governments weren’t willing to match it with costly training necessary for the gear to be used effectively and safely. Clark is startled by the number of SWAT teams falling below the 16 hours of minimum monthly training recommended by the National Tactical Officers Association. Without proper maintenance, only luck remains.
“Luck is not for cops. Luck is for drunks and fools,” Clark said. “Invariably, what happens with a police officer is he slips and falls, he breaks his back, he’s paralyzed for the rest of his life. Some suspect gets shot with an M4 (assault rifle) through the neck, and he’s out of the hospital in a day. Police officers and military guys never seem to have that kind of stubborn luck.”
Competitions in the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston use grant cash to create realistic and elaborate challenges, said Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, who created the Urban Shield event in 2007.
In one scenario, officers with goggles, rifles and fatigues swept through the cabin of a boat. Flames poured from an exploded vehicle during another. Video of the 2009 Urban Shield – with its own heart-thumping doomsday music – depicts tactical teams moving carefully through darkened quarters, roping down the sides of buildings and leaping from a van. Images of 9/11, the Columbine shootings and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California appear with the words “train, adapt, overcome.”
Special ops supplier Blackhawk Industries – founded by a former Navy SEAL – was among several elite Urban Shield sponsors this year.
Ahern points to a real-life recent case that tested area responders. A gunman killed three people and injured seven others in October at a Cupertino, Calif., cement plant where he reportedly clashed with co-workers. These incidents aren’t infrequent, Ahern insists.
“When you say low probability, I think we deal with these issues on a fairly regular basis,” Ahern said, adding that police “identify infrastructure, potential targets, in our area and try to have our teams train at those actual sites.”
No one knows for sure the number of SWAT teams nationwide. But at a time when the crime rate has been dropping, the number of police associated with SWAT duties has gone up. The National Tactical Officers Association, which provides training and develops SWAT standards, has about 1,650 team memberships, up from 1,026 in 2000, according to Executive Director John Gnagey.
“What we’ve always said is if you don’t have a specific need, you shouldn’t have one,” Gnagey said, referring to SWAT units.
Convention showcases latest tactical gear
The giant showroom in Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center provided a vivid picture of how the nation’s law enforcement agencies are arming and armoring themselves. Chicago hosted the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in late October. Some 800 exhibitors set up booths in 180,000 square feet of noisy space, many displaying military-style gear as thousands of police and other law enforcement professionals wandered the expo, dazzled by the latest gadgetry.
The sights and sounds are bewildering for a casual observer.
Electronic blasts and booms pour from the IES Interactive Training booth, where attendees chose among a shotgun, handgun and assault rifle with realistic recoil to aim at uncooperative suspects and inanimate targets on a life-size screen. Other booths offered combat-style apparel, such as one vest with a “Never Forget” patch, stirring up the memory of 9/11. At the Blackhawk booth, a mannequin was dressed head to toe in heavy-duty dark attire, a rifle slung from its neck and an additional sidearm strapped to its thigh. Another mannequin wore a full-face black mask.
Then there was the panoply of weapons. Colt’s Manufacturing Co. offered a selection of assault rifles. The most popular among cops? An M4 semi-automatic, “closest to what the military issues,” a salesman said.
Elsewhere, police officials admired a jumbo armored vehicle in camouflage green emblazoned with the words, “Greater Salt Lake.” It was built by Massachusetts-based truck maker Lenco, which also assembled the beefy BearCat that the Fargo-area SWAT team began using last year. The display vehicle had a battering ram affixed to the front. A man who answered questions about it showed off a remote gas delivery system that can be attached to the ram for spraying tear gas into a building from a long steel spear.
Advertising materials throughout the expo send a uniform message: The world is fraught with peril, and new high-tech gear is a solution.
“As criminal organizations are increasingly armed with military-style weapons, law enforcement operations require the same level of field-tested and combat-proven protection used by soldiers and Marines in Iraq, Afghanistan and other high-risk locations,” reads one brochure for the Oshkosh Corp.’s burly “tactical protector vehicle.” Minus passengers and cargo, it weighs more than two standard F-150 pickups built this year.
Colt makes its own appeal for a family of assault rifles: “The fundamental law enforcement mission profile has undergone drastic changes since the days of Sam Colt’s ‘gun that won the West.’ … Colt’s current law enforcement products have benefitted from decades of field and combat experience.”
Security market for state, local agencies growing
Security analyst Dilip Sarangan of Frost & Sullivan, which tracks the homeland security industry, said security spending by governments and the private sector is “event-based.” Both are suddenly willing to budget more when tragedy ignites new anxieties, such as after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the 2005 London train bombings, the Mumbai terrorist attacks and, most of all, the 9/11 hijackings.
“That’s what their business is, unfortunately – anytime something bad happens, they make money,” Sarangan said.
The homeland security market for state and local agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from $15.8 billion in fiscal 2009, according to the Homeland Security Research Corp.
New opportunities are making major defense corporations more a part of our domestic lives.
Lenco, manufacturer of the BearCat and other SWAT vehicles, has sold more than 300 of its trucks to law enforcement agencies around the country. It also markets vehicles to the Defense Department, some for use in fighting improvised explosive devices. The company does not disclose sales figures, but a spokesman said more have been sold since 9/11.
In 2007, British defense giant BAE Systems spent $4.5 billion to buy a company called Armor Holdings, which had subsidiaries that made and supplied police equipment, such as riot shields, hard-knuckle gloves, Delta 4 tactical helmets and laser sight mounts for AR-15 assault rifles.
Minnesota-based Alliant Techsystems, the Army’s primary provider of small-caliber ammunition, acquired in recent years two major tactical equipment suppliers, Blackhawk Industries and Eagle Industries. Company executives told shareholders that Blackhawk was a “highly profitable business,” with $115 million in predicted sales this year.
While such companies also outfit sporting enthusiasts and the military, law enforcement agencies are cast by Alliant as essential customers “in the rapidly growing security market.”
Local officials assert that homeland security grants, used to pay for the type of equipment showcased in Chicago, have slowed. But the grants still add up to a lot of spending: The Department of Homeland Security awarded more than $2 billion in grants this year, and President Barack Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act pumped more than a half-billion dollars into existing grant programs.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is largely responsible for distributing homeland security grants. It operates a website known as the Responder Knowledge Base, which serves as a sort of war-on-terror catalog listing what local governments are allowed to buy with readiness funds.
One item featured is an armored bulldozer with a thick front shield and propelled by “tank-like, all-terrain tracks.” The manufacturer, Dolmen Corp., says police operate in an increasingly violent world, where the arms race between good guys and bad guys is constantly escalating.
The firm says the military-style vehicle allows police to “gain the edge on crime.”
Gnagey, of the tactical officers association, said there’s a sense among some local police that the price increases when makers know it’s being paid for with federal funds. The minute new equipment arrives, he joked, “if it’s painted black and called SWAT, the price doubles.”
But the evolution continues. In the Phoenix area, Sheriff Joe Arpaio claimed this year to have his own air armada of private pilots he could dispatch to monitor illegal border crossers. He called it Operation Desert Sky. Arpaio also picked up a full-size surplus Army tank, complete with treads.
The city of Ogden, Utah, is about to launch a 54-foot, remote-controlled “crime-fighting blimp” with a powerful surveillance camera affixed to its belly by the end of the year.
Standard-duty officers seen daily on the streets of Los Angeles were retrained to break in and kill terrorists without negotiating, under an assumption that the attackers could have a death wish and not be interested in resolving matters peacefully. Many officers were also equipped with assault rifles.
Bratton, the former police chief, said in an interview that terrorism had been a low priority early in his career. By the time he retired in 2009, it consumed a significant part of his workday. After the Mumbai attacks, Bratton believed he had to act fast to prepare for such an event.
“We were not structured for that type of attack,” he said. “Within six months, we were.”
Las Vegas rushed forward as well. Everyday patrol officers were given additional training, and each shift now has “in-the-box” squads that can meet at a pre-determined location and respond as a group to would-be campus or casino attackers. Squad members carry additional gear in their cars, including gas masks, body armor and high-powered rifles.
“When you go to a substation now at a police department and you see someone walk out to their car to start their shift, no longer are they just walking out there with a briefcase,” said Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie. “They’ve got other equipment they’re taking with them that if the situation arises, they put that on and they use it.”
Charles Ramsey, who was police chief in Washington, D.C., during 9/11, said officers in the nation’s capital began to train for multiple simultaneous attacks. The Mumbai bloodshed, which took place after Ramsey headed to Philadelphia in 2008, also served as a spur for him to make further changes and spend more money to up-armor his force.
Some 1,500 beat cops in Philadelphia have been trained to use AR-15 assault rifles – akin to the high-powered weapons issued to war fighters.
“We have a lot of people here, like most departments, who are ex-military,” Ramsey said in an interview. “Some people are very much into guns and so forth. So it wasn’t hard to find volunteers.”
Preventative measures critical, Fargo police say
Fargo is not a place anyone associates with crime or terrorism. Its combination of friendly folk, low housing prices and high employment has garnered it recognition as one of the best places in the country to live. It is home to one of Microsoft’s largest campuses and North Dakota State University.
Officials in Cass County, which includes Fargo, began buying gear in 2002. The spending on police gear rose from tens of thousands a decade ago to millions.
Police there said such spending is more than justified as a preventative measure. North Dakota has what could be perceived as targets, and the FBI established in Fargo one of its 104 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Critical energy and agriculture sectors drive the booming economy in the remote border state. Drones used in the war on terror and homeland security are stationed at or operated from air bases in Grand Forks and at the local Fargo airport.
In addition, they say, some right-wing militias and white supremacists have been long-standing threats.
Fargo police justify the purchase of their SWAT truck, saying that with regular maintenance and low miles, it could serve the force for 30 years. They point to past shootings, like a 2004 incident in which a former Army ranger shot at SWAT team members and pinned down one officer who could have been aided by the truck.
In their minds, if it saves even one life, it’s worth the cost.
Other purchases, like the bomb-detection robots, are shared with federal agencies in Fargo that have outposts, but not the resources. The local police also say they’ve taken a regional approach to spend wisely, leveraging federal grants to buy equipment that has multiple uses.
“It doesn’t make sense if we only use it for terrorism activity, and it doesn’t make sense if we only use it for criminal activity,” said Fargo police Capt. Patrick Claus, a former SWAT commander.
Some residents agree. Tim Kozojed, a corn and soybean farmer in Hillsboro, 40 miles north of Fargo, said he believes police ought to have the equipment they need. But he also believes they must spend money wisely. He’s not certain that’s happened with the grants.
“I’m very reluctant to get anxious about a terrorist attack in North Dakota,” Kozojed, 31, said. “Why would they bother?”
Claus, who was responsible for buying some of Fargo’s military-style gear, including the BearCat truck, understands such thinking. But he contends it’s misguided, and he and other law enforcement authorities are obliged to prepare as well as they can.
“We prepare for the worst and hope it never happens,” he said. “But how many fires do you have to have before you buy a fire engine?”
This story was edited by Robert O’Harrow, Robert Salladay and Mark Katches. It was copy edited by Nikki Frick.
Tags: #occupy movement, academic freedom, dave zinn, fbi, first amendment, graham spanier, linda katehi, militarization, national security, non violence, penn state scandal, police brutality, roger hollander, uc davis
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Two shocking scandals. Two esteemed universities. Two disgraced university leaders. One stunning connection. Over the last month, we’ve seen Penn State University President Graham Spanier dismissed from his duties and we’ve seen UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi pushed to the brink of resignation. Spanier was jettisoned because of what appears to be a systematic cover-up of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial child rape. Katehi has faced calls to resign after the she sent campus police to blast pepper spray in the faces of her peaceably assembled students, an act for which she claims “full responsibility.” The university’s Faculty Association has since voted for her ouster citing a “gross failure of leadership.” The names Spanier and Katehi are now synonymous with the worst abuses of institutional power. But their connection didn’t begin there. In 2010, Spanier chose Katehi to join an elite team of twenty college presidents on what’s called the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, which “promotes discussion and outreach between research universities and the FBI.”
Spanier said upon the group’s founding in 2005, “The National Security Higher Education Advisory Board promises to help universities and government work toward a balanced and rational approach that will allow scientific research and education to progress and our nation to remain safe.” He also said that the partnership could help provide “internships” to faculty and students interested in “National Security issues.”
FBI chief Robert Mueller said at a press conference with Spanier, “We knew it would not be necessarily an easy sell because of the perceived tension between law enforcement and academia. But once we’ve briefed President Spanier on the national security threats that impact all of you here at Penn State and at other universities, it became clear to all of us why this partnership is so important. “
But the reality of this partnership is far different. Its original mandate was about protecting schools from “cyber theft” and “intellectual property issues.” As has been true with the FBI since Hoover, give them a foothold, and they’ll take off their shoes and get cozy. Their classified mandate has since expanded to such euphemisms as “counter-terrorism” and “public safety.” It also expanded federal anti-terrorism task forces to include the dark-helmeted pepper-spray brigades, otherwise known as the campus police.
As Wired magazine put it in 2007, “presidents are being advised to think like ‘Cold Warriors’ and be mindful of professors and students who may not be on campus for purposes of learning but, instead, for spying, stealing research and recruiting people who are sympathetic to an anti-U.S. cause.”
Chancellor Katehi said in 2010 that despite these concerns, she was proud to join the NSHEA because “it’s important for us to learn from the FBI about the smartest, safest protocols to follow as we do our work, and it is equally important that the FBI has a solid understanding of matters of academic freedom.”
Sacremento’s FBI special agent in Charge, Drew Parenti, praised her involvement, saying, “The FBI’s partnership with higher education is a key component in our strategy of staying ahead of national security threats from our foreign adversaries…. we are very pleased that Chancellor Katehi has accepted an appointment to serve on the board.”
As for the actual meetings between the presidents of academic institutions and the FBI, those discussions are classified. If you are a rabble-rousing faculty member or a student group stepping out of line, your school records can become the FBI’s business and you’d be none the wiser.
Chris Ott, from the Massachusetts ACLU, said of the NSHEA, “The FBI is asking university faculty, staff, and students to create a form of neighborhood watch against anything that is so called ‘suspicious.’ What kinds of things are they going to report on? Who has the right to be snitching? One of the scary things is who [on the campuses] will take it upon themselves to root out spies?”
In the wake of the scandals that have enveloped and now destroyed the careers of Spanier and Katehi, the very existence of the NCHEA should now be called to question. Given the personal character on display by these two individuals, why should anyone trust that the classified meetings have stayed in the realm of “cyber theft” and intellectual property rights? What did the FBI tell Chancellor Katehi about how to deal with the peacefully assembled Occupiers? Was “counter-terrorism” advice given on how to handle her own students?
As for Spanier, how much of Sandusky’s actions at Penn State, which were documented on campus but never shared with the local police, was the FBI privy to? Why did the school hire former FBI director Louis Freeh to head up their internal investigation? Does that in fact represent a conflict of interest? And most critically, did the “chilling effect” of a sanctioned FBI presence at Penn State actually prevent people from coming forward?
When Spanier was asked in 2005, if he was concerned about whether a formal partnership with the FBI would cause objections he said, “If there is an issue on my campus, I’d like to be the first person to hear about it, not the last.” In the context of recent events, it’s probably best to let those words speak for themselves. But fear not for the futures of these two stewards of higher education and academic freedom. Maybe Spanier can put his experience as a federal informant to good use from inside a federal prison. As for Katehi, if, as suspected, she’ll be unemployed shortly, perhaps she can take advantage of one of those fabulous internship opportunities having the FBI on campus provides.
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
A more militarized CIA for a more militarized America April 29, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, cia, cia director, glenn greenwald, Iraq, libya, militarization, Obama, pakistan, Petraeus, roger hollander, war, yemen
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The first four Directors of the CIA (from 1947-1953) were military officers, but since then, there has been a tradition (generally though imperfectly observed) of keeping the agency under civilian rather than military leadership. That’s why George Bush’s 2006 nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to the CIA provoked so many objections from Democrats (and even some Republicans).
The Hayden nomination triggered this comment from the current Democratic Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein: “You can’t have the military control most of the major aspects of intelligence. The CIA is a civilian agency and is meant to be a civilian agency.” The then-top Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, said “she hears concerns from civilian CIA professionals about whether the Defense Department is taking over intelligence operations” and “shares those concerns.” On Meet the Press, Nancy Pelosi cited tensions between the DoD and the CIA and said: “I don’t see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA.” Then-Sen. Joe Biden worried that the CIA, with a General in charge, will “just be gobbled up by the Defense Department.” Even the current GOP Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, voiced the same concern about Hayden: “We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.”
Of course, like so many Democratic objections to Bush policies, that was then and this is now. Yesterday, President Obama announced — to very little controversy — that he was nominating Gen. David Petraeus to become the next CIA Director. The Petraeus nomination raises all the same concerns as the Hayden nomination did, but even more so: Hayden, after all, had spent his career in military intelligence and Washington bureaucratic circles and thus was a more natural fit for the agency; by contrast, Petraues is a pure military officer and, most of all, a war fighting commander with little background in intelligence. But in the world of the Obama administration, Petraeus’ militarized, warrior orientation is considered an asset for running the CIA, not a liability.
That’s because the CIA, under Obama, is more militarized than ever, as devoted to operationally fighting wars as anything else, including analyzing and gathering intelligence. This morning’s Washington Post article on the Petraeus nomination — headlined: “Petraeus would helm an increasingly militarized CIA” — is unusual in presenting such a starkly forthright picture of how militarized the U.S. has become under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner:
Gen. David H. Petraeus has served as commander in two wars launched by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. If confirmed as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Petraeus would effectively take command of a third — in Pakistan.
Petraeus’s nomination comes at a time when the CIA functions, more than ever in its history, as an extension of the nation’s lethal military force.
CIA teams operate alongside U.S. special operations forces in conflict zones from Afghanistan to Yemen. The agency has also built up a substantial paramilitary capability of its own. But perhaps most significantly, the agency is in the midst of what amounts to a sustained bombing campaign over Pakistan using unmanned Predator and Reaper drones.
Since Obama took office there have been at least 192 drone missile strikes, killing as many as 1,890 militants, suspected terrorists and civilians. Petraeus is seen as a staunch supporter of the drone campaign, even though it has so far failed to eliminate the al-Qaeda threat or turn the tide of the Afghan war. . . .Petraeus has spent relatively little time in Washington over the past decade and doesn’t have as much experience with managing budgets or running Washington bureaucracies as CIA predecessors Leon E. Panetta and Michael V. Hayden. But Petraeus has quietly lobbied for the CIA post, drawn in part by the chance for a position that would keep him involved in the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen.
It’s rare for American media outlets to list all of our “wars” this way, including the covert ones (and that list does not even include the newest one, in Libya, where drone attacks are playing an increasingly prominent role as well). But Barack Obama does indeed preside over numerous American wars in the Muslim world, including some that he started (Libya and Yemen) and others which he’s escalated (Afghanistan and Pakistan). Because our wars are so often fought covertly, the CIA has simply become yet another arm of America’s imperial war-fighting machine, thus making it the perfect fit for Bush and Obama’s most cherished war-fighting General to lead (Petraeus will officially retire from the military to take the position, though that obviously does not change who he is, how he thinks, and what his loyalties are).
One reason why it’s so valuable to keep the CIA under civilian control is because its independent intelligence analyst teams often serve as one of the very few capable bureaucratic checks against the Pentagon and its natural drive for war. That was certainly true during the Bush years when factions in the CIA rebelled against the dominant neocon Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Feith clique, but it’s been true recently as well:
Others voiced concern that Petraeus is too wedded to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the troop-heavy, counterinsurgency strategy he designed — to deliver impartial assessments of those wars as head of the CIA.
Indeed, over the past year the CIA has generally presented a more pessimistic view of the war in Afghanistan than Petraeus has while he has pushed for an extended troop buildup.
That’s why, noted The Post, there is “some grumbling among CIA veterans opposed to putting a career military officer in charge of an agency with a long tradition of civilian leadership.” But if one thing is clear in Washington, it’s that neither political party is willing or even able to stand up to the military establishment, and especially not a General as sanctified in Washington circles as Petraeus. It’s thus unsurprising that “Petraeus seems unlikely to encounter significant opposition from Capitol Hill” and that, without promising to vote for his confirmation, Sen. Feinstein — who raised such a ruckus over the appointment of Hayden — yesterday “signaled support for Petraeus.”
The nomination of Petraeus doesn’t change much; it merely reflects how Washington is run. That George Bush’s favorite war-commanding General — who advocated for and oversaw the Surge in Iraq — is also Barack Obama’s favorite war-commanding General, and that Obama is now appointing him to run a nominally civilian agency that has been converted into an “increasingly militarized” arm of the American war-fighting state, says all one needs to know about the fully bipartisan militarization of American policy. There’s little functional difference between running America’s multiple wars as a General and running them as CIA Director because American institutions in the National Security State are all devoted to the same overarching cause: Endless War.
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I’m excited to be speaking tonight at FAIR’s 25th anniversary event in New York, along with Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman and Michael Moore. The event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., is sold out, but will be live-streamed in its entirety here