Senate passes Homeland
Compiled by Seán Marquis
Nov. 20 (AGR) The Senate today passed the Homeland Security
bill by a lopsided vote of 90-9 after Senate Democrats failed
to remove special-interest provisions in the legislation and
then overwhelmingly voted for it. The vote was a victory for
President George W. Bush, who has been pushing for the creation
of the massive new Cabinet-level agency.
The House last week provisionally finished its work for the
year, and now can approve minor technical changes in the Senate
version without calling lawmakers back to Washington.
The measure will create a massive new Cabinet-level Department
of Homeland Security, merging 22 agencies and 170,000 workers
into one agency.
The reorganization is the biggest remaking of the federal government
in decades, with the new department taking in such familiar
government institutions as the Coast Guard, the Customs Service,
the Secret Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There were seven provisions Democrats had attempted to remove
including one aimed at protecting pharmaceutical companies from
lawsuits over vaccines they create and their side effects. The
protections would be retroactive to lawsuits already in court.
Democrats said that among the lawsuits to be thrown out are
those involving claims that mercury-based preservatives used
in vaccines cause autism in children.
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-TX argued that liability protections are
needed becuase we are treating smallpox vaccines as an
instrument of the war on terrorism.
The bill also includes liability protections for makers of
airport screening equipment and airport security firms and guts
an amendment offered by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-MN,
that would have barred companies that set up offshore tax havens
from getting federal homeland security contracts.
Tucked into the nearly 484-page bill is a provision that permits
the creation of university-based centers for homeland security.
It sets 15 standards that a university must meet to qualify
for a lucrative federal grant and become a center for
The provision on vaccinations provides liability protections
for certain vaccine manufacturers, such as Eli Lilly and Dow
Critics say the language is designed to block lawsuits based
on controversial components such as the mercury-based thimerosal,
which is used as a preservative in vaccines. Pending lawsuits
argue that the preservative is responsible for autism in children
and other neurological disorders.
Sellers of anti-terrorism technologies would also
get liability protections. If an anti-terrorism product fails
to provide protection in a terrorist act, the seller would be
exempt from punitive damages, and liability would be limited
to the sellers liability insurance.
Also included are provisions that would allow the arming of
airline pilots and life prison terms for computer hackers who
recklessly endanger peoples lives.
The bill also greatly curtails the Freedom of Information Act
and would allow the federal government to override state open-records
laws and prohibit the release of any information that a state
received from the department.
All citizens are suspect
The Homeland Security Act gives federal agencies significant
new powers to track what US citizens are reading, writing, and
buying online and will enable law-enforcement groups to compel
internet service providers to hand over client records revealing
everything from their personal e-mail messages to their favorite
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center (EPIC) said that the bill allows the
police to go to internet service providers and obtain records
of customer activity, without a warrant
that would allow
a law enforcement agent with access to your online surfing activities
to determine where youve been and what youve been
Rotenberg took particular exception to the Total Information
Awareness (TIA) program created as part of the new bill
which is to be headed by Adm. John Poindexter. Poindexter
is currently director of the Information Awareness Office in
the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was
national security adviser for President Reagan during the Iran-Contra
scandal. He was convicted in 1990 on five felonies including
lying to Congress and destroying evidence.
The problem with many of these systems of surveillance
and this will be particularly true with Total Information
Awareness is that it may be total information for the
government, but its total secrecy for the people,
Rotenberg said. There will be no notification of the public
when personal information is collected or how its being
used or whether its being added to a profiling system
to detect some type of anomaly.
TIA would be within a new agency the Security Advanced
Research Projects Agency (SARPA), which would be modeled on
DARPA, the central research office for the Defense Department.
DARPA and SARPA both would be under the supervision of Adm.
There is a great danger in this provision. It gives
carte blanche to eavesdrop on Americans on the flimsiest of
evidence, if any evidence at all, said Phil Kent, president
of the Southeastern Legal Foundation.
I think its the most sweeping threat to civil liberties
since Japanese-American internment, Kent said.
Even conservative New York Times columnist William Safire spoke
out about the new bill in a Nov. 14 commentary titled You
are a suspect.
Here is what will happen to you, wrote Safire,
Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine
subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every
Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic
grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you
book and every event you attend all these transactions
and communications will go into what the Defense Department
describes as a virtual, centralized grand database.
Safire continued, To this computerized dossier on your
private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information
that government has about you passport application, drivers
license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records,
complaints from nosy neighbors to the FBI, your lifetime paper
trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance and
you have the supersnoops dream: a Total Information
Awareness about every US citizen.
Backdoor police state
The American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)
said that one section of the legislation would allow the head
of the Health and Human Services (HHS) department to order US
citizens to receive potentially deadly vaccines against their
AAPS said the dubious medical emergency language is contained
in Section 304, titled, Administration of Counter Measures
The bill gives HHS authority to declare an actual or potential
bio-terrorist incident while giving the secretary the power
to administer countermeasures
like forced immunizations to a category of individuals
or everyone. Also, the bill gives HHS the power to continually
extend the emergency declaration indefinitely, without
Also, if you are harmed by the countermeasures,
you cannot sue or take any other civil remedy, AAPS
This section will give the [HHS] secretary unlimited
power to define a real or potential threat, to take any measures
he decides and to do it for as long as he wants, said
Kathryn Serkes, a spokeswoman for AAPS.
Serkes said the provision dealing with HHS reminds her of similar
emergency legislation directed at empowering governors.
The Model State Emergency Health Powers Act gives governors
the power to order the collection of all data and records on
citizens, ban firearms, take control of private property, and
quarantine entire cities, under the auspices of protecting the
health and safety of citizens from epidemics and bioterrorism,
according to one analysis.
Domestic spying: already in a city near you
President Bushs top national security advisers have begun
discussing the creation of a new domestic intelligence agency
that would take over responsibility for domestic spying and
analysis from the Federal bureau of Investigation (FBI), according
to US government officials and intelligence experts.
On Veterans Day, top national security officials gathered for
two hours to discuss the issue in a meeting chaired by national
security adviser Condoleezza Rice. White House Chief of Staff
Andrew H. Card Jr., Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George J. Tenet, Attorney
General John D. Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III and six others
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was recently dispatched
to London for a briefing on MI5, an British spy agency empowered
to collect and analyze domestic intelligence.
Any new agency would not replace the FBI but would have the
primary role in gathering and analyzing intelligence about US
citizens and foreign nationals in the US.
Were either going to create a working, effective,
substantial domestic intelligence unit in the FBI or create
a new agency, said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-AL.), ranking
member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The CIA has been expanding its domestic presence, placing agents
with nearly all of the FBIs 56 terrorism task forces in
US cities, under a program initiated by FBI Director Mueller.
In many cities, according to local FBI special agents, the
CIA employees help plan daily operations and set priorities,
as well as share information about suspected foreigners and
Ellen Knowlton, the special agent in charge of the FBIs
Las Vegas field office, called the CIA officers in her office
full and active participants in day-to-day operations.
The exchange of ideas among the FBI, the CIA, and local law
enforcement is very interactive, she said.
Sources: Associated Press, Knight Ridder Newspapers, NBC,
Newsweek, New York Times, MSNBC, Washington Post,
Washington Times, WorldNetDaily.com