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Janet Napolitano’s Orwellian legacy

To those who have watched with dismay as America has gradually been transformed into a police state, there is little room for regret over Janet Napolitano’s recent announcement that she is resigning her post as head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

Under Napolitano’s leadership, the DHS has managed to entrench the federal government’s power in an increasingly Orwellian America at great cost to Americans’ civil liberties.

The following are just some of Napolitano’s “greatest hits” when it comes to civil liberties violations. They are explored in greater depth in my new book, "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State."

1. If You See Something, Say Something: In December 2010, Napolitano created a partnership between DHS and America’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, in order to encourage shoppers to report “suspicious” activity to store management. Likening the initiative to “the Cold War fight against communists,” Napolitano recorded a video message to be played at hundreds of Wal-Mart locations across the country, telling shoppers “if you see something, say something.” 

This blatantly Orwellian citizen spying program also spread to other outlets including “Mall of America, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, Amtrak, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, [and] sports and general aviation industries.”

2. Constitution-Free Border Control: Arguments aside over the need to control illegal immigration, the American border has become a model for the emerging American police state due in large part to the DHS. 

Under Napolitano’s direction, the government’s efforts along the border have become little more than an exercise in police state power, ranging from aggressive checkpoints to the widespread use of drone technology, often used against American citizens traveling within the country.

Border patrol operations occur within 100 miles of an international crossing, putting some 200 million Americans within the bounds of aggressive border patrol searches and seizures, as well as increasingly expansive drone surveillance.

With 71 checkpoints found along the southwest border of the United States alone, suspicionless search and seizures on the border are rampant. 

According to the ACLU: “Between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, over 6,500 people — nearly 3,000 of them U.S. citizens — were subjected to a search of their electronic devices as they crossed U.S. borders. 

DHS claims it has the right to conduct these invasive searches whenever it likes, to whomever it likes, and without having any individualized suspicion.”

3. Drones: Napolitano has already pushed for the expansion of drone surveillance from border zones to the interior of the United States. 

Drone surveillance has expanded on the American-Canadian border in recent years, including drones patrolling the 950 miles of Washington state’s north border.  

A 2010 document signed by Napolitano and obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation via a Freedom of Information Act request shows that DHS has begun developing plans to mount so-called “non-lethal weapons” on drones operated by Customs and Border Protection. According to the document, the weapons would be used against “targets of interest,” described as people or vehicles carrying smugglers or undocumented immigrants.

4. Fusion Centers: While fusion centers—data collecting agencies spread throughout the country, aided by the National Security Agency (NSA)—were in operation prior to Napolitano’s ascension to the head of DHS, she doubled down on the program early on in her tenure, insisting “that Fusion Centers will be the centerpiece of state, local, federal intelligence-sharing for the future and that the Department of Homeland Security will be working and aiming its programs to underlie Fusion Centers.” 

These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our Internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected—the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police—a relationship which will make a transition to martial law that much easier. As of 2009, the government admitted to having at least 72 fusion centers. A map released by the ACLU indicates that every state except Idaho has a fusion center in operation or formation.

5. Spying on Activists, Dissidents and Veterans: In 2009, DHS released three infamous reports on right wing and left wing “Extremism,” and another entitled "Operation Vigilant Eagle," outlining a surveillance program targeting veterans. 

The reports collectively and broadly define extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.” Napolitano curtly dismissed concerns by activists, journalists and veterans groups that the DHS was targeting people based upon their ideological beliefs. 

Fast forward to 2013, when it was revealed that DHS, the FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies, and the private sector were working together to conduct nationwide surveillance on protesters’ First Amendment activities.

6. Stockpiling Ammunition: To add fuel to the fire, DHS has been stockpiling an alarming amount of ammunition in recent years, which only adds to the discomfort of those already leery of the government. According to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, DHS currently has 260 million rounds of ammo in stock, which averages out to between 1,300 to 1,600 rounds per officer. The US Army, meanwhile, has roughly 350 rounds per soldier.

7. TSA: Under the direction of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which falls under DHS authority, American travelers have been subjected to all manner of searches ranging from whole-body scanners and enhanced patdowns at airports to bag searches in train stations.

Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams laid the groundwork for the government’s effort to secure so-called “soft” targets such as malls, stadiums, bridges, etc. 

Some security experts predict that checkpoints and screening stations will eventually be established at all soft targets, such as department stores, restaurants, and schools. Given the virtually limitless number of potential soft targets vulnerable to terrorist attack, subjection to intrusive pat-downs and full-body imaging will become an integral component of everyday life in the United States.

8. Defending the NSA: In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the immensity of the NSA’s spying programs, Napolitano has defended the NSA’s actions. Insisting that there are “lots of protections built into the system,” Napolitano remarked, “I think people have gotten the idea that there’s an Orwellian state out there that somehow we’re operating in. That’s far from the case… No one should believe that we are simply going willy-nilly and using any kind of data that we can gather.”

The reality, of course, is that we are indeed living in an Orwellian state engineered in no small part by "Big Sister" herself.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He is the author of the new book, "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State" (SelectBooks, 2013). Whitehead may be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org. Click here for information about The Rutherford Institute.