For a moment in early 2009, James Cromitie, who was being secretly taped in a federal terrorism sting operation, voiced doubts. A government informer asked Mr. Cromitie if he still wanted to go through with a plot to bomb synagogues and shoot down military planes.
“I have to think about it,” Mr. Cromitie replied during a recorded conversation on Feb. 23, 2009. The informer pressed him to speed things up — for instance, by recruiting more members for the plot from a local mosque.
“Don’t ever ask me to ask the brothers in the mosque to do anything,” Mr. Cromitie snapped.
As Mr. Cromitie seemed to waver in the months before his arrest in May 2009 — avoiding the informer’s calls and disappearing for several weeks — the informer’s entreaties to him grew more and more urgent.
In April, the informer, Shahed Hussain, told Mr. Cromitie that he had put his “life on the line” for Mr. Cromitie, an allusion to a Pakistani terror group that Mr. Hussain said he belonged to. “When I say to my brother, ‘I’m going to do this,’ I need to do it,” he said. In another conversation, he reproached Mr. Cromitie: “I told you I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it.”
Lawyers for Mr. Cromitie and three other men arrested in the case say Mr. Hussain’s appeals to act turned the men to terror and constituted illegal entrapment. Prosecutors assert there is ample evidence in dozens of recorded conversations — and the defendants’ own actions — that the defendants were willing to commit terror.
This is a tribute to clear thinking about philanthropy by a Harvard Business School professor who has written a book called Uncharitable. The nonprofit charitable world needs more like him.
I know of institutions whose budgets for fundraising and development are so modest that there is no connection between the gifts they receive and the activity in their development offices, i.e. all that they spend is essentially “beside the point.” This might be alright if these same institutions weren’t starving their missions for lack of resources.
A killer observation from this column:
At last count, the 72 federally-funded fusion centers around the country (including two in Massachusetts) seem to focus less on catching terrorists and more on tracking people engaged in such “suspicious” activities as opposing abortion, supporting third-party candidates (such as Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and Cynthia McKinney), defending the environment, and calling for an end to war.
To make matters worse, these “fusion centers” are funded by federal Homeland Security tax dollars but operated by local cops — a classic case of “Little Brother” doing the watching on behalf of Big Brother. (Blogger’s Note: Does this remind you at all of what the Federal Government is fighting against in Arizona? Do these people know what they think?)
States also are left to decide what — if any — independent oversight is put in place to protect individuals against unwarranted government intrusion into our private lives. Like most states, Massachusetts has yet to adopt fusion center oversight legislation (a good bill died in the Public Safety committee this session).
Of course, government surveillance is not a new threat to democracy. What is new is the combination of 21st Century technology and the post-9/11 zeal for anything that carries the label “homeland security.”
On June 26th Glenn Greenwald wrote at Salon about the closing/not closing of Guantanamo citing a New York Times piece of the same date by Charlie Savage about Guantanamo fading as a priority of the administration. Although a bit long and involving interbloggery debate, I commend Greenwald’s work.
Everyone knows that presidential persistence on a subject is at least one means of influencing Congress and it is not an inappropriate exercise of his office. One senses that Rahm Emmanuel knows a great many other means of exerting influence and has used them for the things the Administration cares about. As Greenwald points out, a number of the things it cares about, public auction, free market in prescriptions, tough financial regulations, are quite contrary to what candidate Obama said he cared about.
Obama is a great disappointment in the field of civil liberties, an area in which it is frequent that conservatives, at least of the libertarian stripe, and liberals can often find agreement. He has not only preserved nearly every asserted executive prerogative of the George W. Bush administration but added a few more. I think there are two reasons for this:
- For him to forswear many of these would place limits on the intelligence agencies that they simply don’t want. They do not regard the days of worrying about civil liberties as “the good old days” when the Constitution was rigorously applied, they regard their current freedom of action as something to be preserved and, if possible, enhanced. If they can continue to convince their bosses that their morale and effectiveness will plummet if they can’t behave freely, those bosses can convey that to Obama who reputedly does not wish to alienate them. (To take just the Fourth Amendment as an example, how constrained they ever were is really open to debate. Prior to the Bush Administration’s securing a law to effectively circumvent FISA, it was surely the most compliant with government court in the history of the nation.)
- Anyone who is president is likely to feel constrained more than powerful, simply because he cannot usually work his will by sheer fiat. Those powers accumulated to the office by his predecessors, and George W. Bush accumulated, often by assertion, quite a few, are not to be given up casually, even if they are not used. Who knows when they might be useful? Giving them up is a headline and sop to a civil liberties base that has not demonstrated its effectiveness in getting people elected while it is a full steak and lobster dinner for the Tea Partiers who think he is weak and naive. Sad as I am to say it, and as much as it made some Fourth of July rhetoric ring off-key for me, unless people who are virtually sure never to be caught up in these executive deprivations of rights rise up to a degree they have shown no disposition to do, I can’t see him giving up any of these powers or leaning into Congress to take action on related issues. Revise the Patriot Act to ensure the preservation of individual rights? Why?
As reported in the New York Times article about the Supreme Court holding that there was no general First Amendment protection of signatures for a referendum, “Justice Scalia, in his own concurrence, was the most skeptical of all. He said it was not clear that petition signers deserved any First Amendment protection.
“Harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance,” he wrote. “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.””
If one is not prepared to suffer the opprobrium of others who disagree, one forfeits the right to pose questions for public resolution at the ballot box. A candidate for his party’s nomination to run for a US Senate seat raises all kinds of questions for us when he appears not to have campaigned for the nomination, only paid his filing fee, and gets more votes than anyone else. Yet he was not invisible and the press and public could have inquired about him from filing to election, they just didn’t. The contention in the court case was that the people signed to get an issue on the ballot should be protected from being publicly known, lest others hold them to account for signing.
The sad aspect of this and the senate nomination controversy is two-fold: if the press had done its job on the nominee, he would have been held accountable for his views and if the names of the petition signers are now made public, the resulting debate, in our current climate, may require both “Civic” and physical courage. The referendum issue concerned gay rights.
Now imagine similar numbers at Yahoo, Microsoft and others to get just a clue about how much governments are intruding on the internet.