When Even the Firefighters Become Spies. . .


Imagine a society where even the firemen were trained to spy on a nation’s citizens — reporting back to central “big brother headquarters” what suspicious things that they may have seen while in someone’s home ostensibly to save lives and squelch fires.
That used to be places like the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Vietnam and the like — but today, we need to look at ourselves — the United States of America.
Former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has a disturbing, revelatory article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today about precisely the scenario above. Here’s the start of the important article:

The image of the friendly firefighter helping rescue a wayward kitten from a tree might need updating. If the federal Department of Homeland Security has its way, firefighters across the country will be armed not only with firefighting equipment, but also issued training materials on how to recognize suspect behavior on the part of citizens and what to look for in peoples’ homes that might be “suspicious.” In other words, firefighters would become domestic spies. In fact, such training already has begun.
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, in a recent speech to the country’s fire chiefs, reminded his audience that in the government’s view, a fire or any natural disaster should be seen as no different from a terrorist act. The secretary noted that among the billions of taxpayer dollars that had been distributed to fire departments since the Sept. 11 attacks, were significant sums to develop “fusion centers” in the various states (including Georgia). These strangely named “fusion centers” (officially, “Counter Terrorism Information Centers”) already include firefighters. Chertoff did not in his public remarks to the fire chiefs explicitly mention training firefighters to spot “suspicious” activity or items as among the training they do or should receive, but recent news stories are detailing the troubling manner in which the feds are doing just this.
As usual, New York City — training ground for public officials such as former mayor Rudy Giuliani and current mayor Michael Bloomberg who apparently consider surveillance the Holy Grail of modern government — is leading the way.
Fire chiefs in the Big Apple, for example, already have been granted federal security clearances to further this “integration” of firefighters into the homeland security. According to published accounts of such training, firefighters are being trained to watch for “hostile” or “uncooperative” individuals, or those “expressing discontent” with our government. They are also trained to watch for and report on things that “seem out of place” in a home or business such as firearms and video recording equipment. Rooms with “little or no furniture” fall within the reportable suspicious activity.

We don’t agree on everything, but I certainly commend Bob Barr for his staunch support of civil liberties. I heard him this morning speak about this article and the issues involved — and I think that all Americans, on the left and the right, have got to work more vigorously to stop the quickening creep of the Sovietization of American government and society.
— Steve Clemons


21 comments on “When Even the Firefighters Become Spies. . .

  1. ET says:

    Oh and did I neglet to mention that the firefighter that I mention that he was party of his city’s homeland security plan?


  2. ET says:

    I’m guessing that the firefighter I saw being interviews on MSNBC or CNN a few days ago that converted to Islam, changed his last name and consequently gets pulled in by Border Patrol or whomever when he goes to Canadad to visit the inlaws won’t be included in this?
    Soon DHS is going to have everyone spying on everyone. And we thought the Red Scare was bad – we obviously didn’t learn a damn thing. What’s going on today makes that time look like kindergarten.


  3. Kathleen says:

    Lurker, hmmmmmm, spooky.
    Better we should spy on office holders.
    pauline, pauline….much food for thought.
    Now I have to reread everything else more carefully. I’ve been awol in Santa’s workshop. 7 grandkids is a LOT of gifts to wrap.
    to be continued.. my Impeach Cheney cap came in the mail today, courtesy of PEN, the People’s Email Network.
    Thank you, Santa.


  4. pauline says:

    Thursday, December 13, 2007
    Co-Chair of Congressional 9/11 Inquiry and Former Head of Senate Intelligence Committee Confirms White House Cover Up
    The Co-Chair of the Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 and former Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham, revealed that the White House refused to let the 9/11 inquiry interview one of the most important witnesses imaginable:
    Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the White House on Tuesday of covering up evidence that might have linked Saudi Arabia to the Sept. 11 hijackers.
    The accusation stems from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to allow investigators for a Congressional inquiry and the independent Sept. 11 commission to interview an informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had been the landlord in San Diego of two Sept. 11 hijackers.
    In his book “Intelligence Matters,” Mr. Graham, the co-chairman of the Congressional inquiry with Representative Porter J. Goss, Republican of Florida, said an F.B.I. official wrote them in November 2002 and said “the administration would not sanction a staff interview with the source.” On Tuesday, Mr. Graham called the letter “a smoking gun” and said, “The reason for this cover-up goes right to the White House.”
    This isn’t some fresh-face kid talking. This is a consummate insider: the former head of senate intelligence and co-chair of the congressional 9/11 inquiry.
    If the White House refused to allow an interview of a government informant who was landlord to two of the hijackers — one of the most valuable leads it could possibly pursue — what other investigations did it spike? And if the White House killed an investigation to, allegedly, protect its Saudi friends, how much more motivated would the White House have been to kill investigations into areas which implicated elements of the U.S. government itself?


  5. Lurker says:

    I.N.N. World Report had Barr on months ago talking about FISA. He made a lot of sense.
    Then, about a week ago, I.N.N. had on Mike German of the ACLU (he was a former FBI counter-terrorism agent) to talk about the firefighters/ emergency medical technicians/ police now being trained to spy without warrants.
    Pretty interesting and VERY scary.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    BTW, is anyone else curious what the NIE said about THE REST OF THE WORLD, and the intelligence conclusions concerning Iraq, China, Russia, our failing economy as it applies to national security, the decline of the dollar, ETC?
    Something stinks about this whole thing. These bastards think we are idiots.


  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    These kinds of commentaries from Steve always baffle me. I realize that Steve’s ballywick is foreign policy, and that that is what he likes to focus his essays on. But he has seemed steadfast in his purposeful avoidance of the impeachment issue, and has consistently avoided using his blog or his extensive connections to advocate for accountability.
    The domestic loss of civil liberties, and our “leaders” complete disdain for the rule of law IS the elephant in the room. We now live in a nation where a label can be imposed on any citizen, and after that label has been imposed, all Constitutional rights are thrown out the window. That folks, by any sense of the word, is fascism, and calling this nation a “police state” becomes accurate and indisputable.
    Do you think Steve will give a shit what we are doing in the Middle East if he finds himself sitting in a cell in one of the CIA’s gulags because he dared offend a politician, who retaliated by labeling him an “enemy combatant”?
    In my humble middle American opinion, Steve’s focus is misguided, and his tremendous capabilities, talents, and connections are all for naught, thrown away in the oversea’s arena while his homeland becomes looted of every ideological tenet upon which it was founded.


  8. ... says:

    Michael Chertoff’s name on it says it all…


  9. pauline says:

    Govt’s Kooky Cult Terrorism Case Goes Bust
    By Paul Kiel – December 13, 2007, 5:28PM
    The Miami “Seas of David” terror bust was such an important blow in the War on Terror that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales himself gave a press conference in July of 2006. Federal agents had stopped a plot to blow up the Sears Tower, he said. The group had planned to “accomplish attacks against America,” the FBI’s deputy director said at Gonzales side. “We pre-empted their plot.”
    But, as we wrote at the time, “the more we learn, the less this crew looks like they could have toppled a tree house, let alone the Sears Tower.” The clique, adherents of a sect “that mixes Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and Taoism,” met in a windowless warehouse they called the “Temple.” The leader of the group, Narseal Batiste, was described as a “‘Moses-like figure’ who would roam the streets in a cape or bathrobe, toting a crooked wooden cane and looking for young men to join his group.” And when the group met in their Temple, the men “took turns standing guard outside the door, dressed up in makeshift military uniforms and combat boots. Sometimes they covered their faces with ski masks.” Nobody ever charged them with being subtle.
    And it was unclear whether the group really had any plans themselves, or whether they got all their ideas from the FBI informant. When the FBI raided the Temple, FBI agents found only one knife and a blackjack. The group trained by shooting paintball guns in the woods.
    Sure enough, the government’s case ended today with one exoneration and six mistrials. “The government wants to try them again next year,” the BBC reports.
    see —


  10. pauline says:

    Al Gore spoke the following —
    “Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens-Democrats and Republicans alike-to express our shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger.”
    “In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.
    As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress to prevent such abuses.”
    “It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored.”
    entire speech at —


  11. Carroll says:

    If I remember correctly and I am sure I do…after 911 there was a DHS program to have regular citizens take some kind of training to be “terrier watchers” in their neighborhoods….
    From all the malls and school shootings we see, we ought to be investing our money and attention in more mental health services instead of Chertoff’s SS.
    I haven’t heard any candidate asked about what they would do with the DHS and the mess it has created, not to mention the money that has gone down that black hole.


  12. linda says:

    so, does my collectible rudy! voodoo doll from his senate run tag me as suspicious. is it just a two-week detention at rikers or does mocking rudy! invite a one-way ticket to gitmo?
    depending on how far this program has progressed, i’m very surprised this isn’t screaming headlines in the tabs.. the ny civil liberties union is one of the most active in the country fighting these police state tactics.


  13. Joe says:

    I don’t know about other parts of the country, but I’ve never seen a fire engine, paramedic or ambulance show up to a scene without at least one cop car showing up as well.
    Is this just a backdoor to enable illegal searches without probable cause since the cops may get cases thrown out if they did what they are asking fire/ems people to do?


  14. Chris Brown says:

    Many of the firefighters I know are probably right now asking for their badges, not to mention wetting their pants with anxious anticipation.


  15. p.lukasiak says:

    What bothers me is not so much the idea of firemen “spying” on people, as the tendency government to over-react to these reports, and then refuse to admit there is nothing wrong, and find something, anything to prosecute the “suspects” for.
    Sundance Channel showed a film called “Strange Culture” last night about what happens when emergency personnel report “suspect terrorist activity”.
    basically, the story is of an artist who work was about genetically modified foods, who used harmless bacteria in parts of his group’s art installations. When his wife died suddenly, emergency personnel saw petrie dishes in his home, and alerted the authorities — who treated the home as a bioterrorism site. The state and federal government tested everything, and said there was nothing dangerous in the house. Nevertheless, the artist and a highly respected geneticist that he worked with, were indicted two and a half years ago for “wire and mail fraud” by an overzealous federal prosecutor — despite the fact that no one claims to have been defrauded.
    (Recently, the geneticist pled out on the case — he has non-Hodgins lymphona, malignant melanoma, and since being indicted has suffered strokes — the stress of this situation was literally killing him.)


  16. Frank says:

    Championing Clinton’s impeachment, too bad Barr didn’t let blow jobs juat be blow jobs.


  17. jon says:

    Barr should read Fahrenheit 451. What was a cautionary parable seems to be being used as a text book.
    One more step in the erosion of personal privacy and free speech.
    The emergence of the security state means that any other value is secondary, if honored at all. Patrick Henry’s ‘Give me Liberty or give me death’ has been conflated so that there is no higher good that preventing physical injury to persons.
    My ancestors didn’t fight in the Revolution so I would have to worry about acting patriotic enough when the firemen show up to put out my house fire.
    An airplane may be blown up. Therefore we have to know every scrap of personal information about everyone who flies. Children might be attacked at school. Therefore schools have to be as tightly secured and monitored as prisons. Maybe I should give a retina scan before taking out a library book. There is no end to it.
    Once we have traded away all of our liberty, privacy and freedom, we will find that there are still bad people who might wish us harm. What will we do then?
    Democracy and freedom demand that risks be taken, and a willingness to withstand some potential harms. That is its price. As a society we should be proud to pay that price and more beyond. Because freedom and liberty are incalculably valuable.
    I don’t think we will ever see passengers permit an airplane to be highjacked again. I think it’s time we trust and empower the populace, rather than treating everyone as criminals yet to be charged.
    Our public employees should be able to do their jobs, not be recruited into the Stasi.
    Nothing will be more damaging to those who ‘hate us because of our freedoms’ than if we actually and finally behave as the free people we are. It’s time to stop allowing ourselves to be treated as cattle and take back our rights


  18. pauline says:

    “They are also trained to watch for and report on things that “seem out of place” in a home or business such as…video recording equipment.”
    Uh-oh, I still have a vcr, digital video camera AND now a dvd recorder.
    I take it that chairman chertoff doesn’t really want to see my vacation tapes or my favorite movies as badly as he wants to spy and have access to my and everyone else’s personal files and property for reasons yet to be determined by the chairman. (Oh, except for his neo-con firster friends.)
    I wonder who he blaming these days for the Katrina mess? Remember what Brownie said as reported by CNN?
    “Brown also reiterated that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff should resign for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, accusing Chertoff of lacking disaster management knowledge.”
    “Brown has blamed the poor federal response on the dysfunctional structure of the Department of Homeland Security, which became FEMA’s parent agency when DHS was established in 2003.”
    “It appears to me that, you know, when Chertoff does things like tells me that I’ve got to go to Baton Rouge and plop my butt down on a seat in Baton Rouge and run a disaster from there, I think that shows naivete about how disasters are run,” Brown told CNN on Thursday. “And you’ve either have to get with it, or move on.”
    “Asked whether Chertoff should be dismissed, Brown said, “Well, I think so.” He said FEMA had been “marginalized” by Chertoff and his predecessor, Tom Ridge, and that he had expected the agency’s performance to suffer.”


  19. Ian Kaplan says:

    Back when Barr was in Congress he was sometimes referred to as “Mad Dog Barr” by some progressives. Barr may still believe in the Black Helicopters and the nefarious United Nations plot to rule the world. However, I agree that Barr has become a significant voice in the defense of civil liberties. I always find it strange when I read something quoting Barr or by Barr and find myself agreeing with him.
    Fire fighters always have reported suspicious fires. For example, if there is a fire started because there was lot of chemical around, this would be reported. Expanding this to people who “express discontent” would probably pull in lots of those who comment on this blog. OK, maybe that was a bad example…


  20. Mike says:

    “That used to be places like the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Vietnam and the like…”
    I’m just curious. Do China and Vietnam do this today? Forget North Korea, that seems obvious enough. And forget Soviet Union, we know their record. But you say China and Vietnam, and I am sincerely curious if you think (or know) that their firefighters are defacto surveillance agents, or if you are just using those countries and their “communist” governments as a convenient foil or bogeyman.


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