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The Threat of Cyber Attacks

US Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn has warned, “new disruptive cyber attacks are on the near-term horizon (emphasis added).” Some organizations have rated the likelihood of cyber attacks on the USA to “between 4.0 to 4.3? on a scale of 0 to 5. Deputy Secretary Lynn further warns “we will” see “much destruction” from cyber attacks in the future. (http://stevenmcollins.com/WordPress/?p=4224)

Deputy Secretary Lynn, in remarks made to Congress, (http://www.defense.gov//transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4842) has said: “One of the most consequential aspects of our present and future security environment is the threat posed by computer network attacks. To date, the most prevalent cyber threat has been exploitation of our networks. By that, I mean the theft of data from both government and commercial networks. On the government side, foreign intelligence services have ex-filtrated military plans and weapons systems designs. Commercially, valuable source code and intellectual property has likewise been stolen from business and universities.

More recently, a second cyber threat has emerged — and that is disruption of our networks. In this type of attack intruders seek to deny or degrade the use of important government or commercial network. The denial of service attacks against Estonia in 2007 and against Georgia in 2008 are examples of this kind of threat. Along similar lines, the hacker group Anonymous targeted eBay and PayPal.

The third and most dangerous cyber threat is destruction, where cyber tools are used to cause physical damage. This development — which would mark a strategic shift in the cyber threat — is only just emerging. But when you look at what tools are available, it is clear that this capability exists. It is possible to imagine attacks on military networks or on critical infrastructure — like the transportation system and energy sector — that cause severe economic damage, physical destruction, or even loss of life. Al Qaeda, which has vowed to unleash cyber attacks, has not yet done so. But it is possible for a terrorist group to develop cyber attack tools on their own or to buy them on the black market. The nature of cyber is that a couple dozen talented programmers, using off the shelf equipment, can inflict a lot of damage.

Moreover, with few tangible assets to lose in a confrontation, terrorists groups are very difficult to deter. We have to assume that in cyber as in other areas, if terrorists have the means to strike, they will do so. In the U.S., as in Europe, our military bases and installations are part of — and not separate from — the civilian infrastructure that supports our towns and cities. Ninety-nine percent of the electricity the U.S. military uses comes from civilian sources. Ninety percent of U.S. military voice and Internet communications travel over the same private networks that service homes and offices. We also rely on the nation’s transportation system to move military freight, we rely on commercial refineries to provide fuel, and we rely on the financial industry to pay our bills. Disruptions to any one of these sectors would significantly impact defense operations. A cyber attack against more than one could be devastating. In short, secure military networks will matter little if the power grid goes down or the rest of government stops functioning. Protecting the networks that undergird critical infrastructure must be part of our national security and homeland defense missions.”

As we look at the top risks to the security of the United States of America, it seems clear that the probability of continued attacks, escalating in frequency and severity, is extremely high – in fact, it is a veritable certainty. As Defense Secretary Panetta recently said: “This is the battleground for the future. The next Pearl Harbor may very well be a cyber attack.” (http://www.politicsdaily.com/2011/02/10/u-s-vulnerable-to-terrorism-especially-cyber-attacks-intellig/) The real risk is ineffectiveness on the part of our own defenses.

In addition, it is widely suspected that the United States has been involved in a cyber attack that set the Iran nuclear weapons development program, inserting a “worm” into Iranian information systems known as the “Stuxnet Worm”, which has been described in recent New York Times articles as “the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/world/middleeast/16stuxnet.html?pagewanted=all) This cyber attack is widely believed to have been the product of US and Israeli science weapons development, and is speculated to have set back the Iranian development of nuclear weapons through domestic enrichment of uranium by as much as 15 years. For this reason, countries like Iran have an ax to grind with the United States, and are among several likely candidates for cyberspace based retaliatory attacks. There are two primary factors that have prevented severe incursions thus far: Lack of sophistication on the part of US enemies (which is rapidly diminishing as a barrier to them, and US defenses (which even US officials are warning us about repeatedly.)

A number of fronts pose vulnerabilities to the US, including the theft of sensitive – to – secret information ranging from leading edge R&D to current and planned deployment of US military assets, Debilitating technical data introduced into A&D supplier systems that could compromise the performance of our defense and weapons systems, the transmission of espionage-enabling messaging as embedded data or metadata, and the disabling of critical systems spanning the gamut from emergency response to health care to mass media to power grids.

The criticality of this situation will only worsen through the foreseeable future. Over half of US scientists and engineers are nearing retirement, and other countries are educating far more of them than US, with generally superior skills. Those retirees cannot be replaced without introducing increased numbers of foreign scientists. In addition, major US corporations continue to move their IT services offshore, increasing the exposure of their data to potential sabotage and espionage.

The advance of technology and technologically dense processes and products increases vulnerability and sheer fragility throughout our economy. As one article by futurist Marvin Cetron points out: “Information systems are another category of attack that Muslim radicals could mount against their chosen enemies in the West> One likely source of such an attack would be India, a land with a substantial Muslim minority (about 150 million people) and strong computer and communications industries.” He goes on to point out: “Until the terrorist problem is brought under control – which will probably not happen for at least a generation – we will face growing threat that Muslim extremists will master computer and Internet technologies and use their skills to disrupt essential communications and data. The impact will be seen in US corporations, research laboratories, utilities companies, and manufacturing.” (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_go2133/is_200909/ai_n35627734/pg_6/)

Given all of these factors, and other overarching environmental factors such as the sheer volume of data transmission and storage and the shift in scientific and engineering skills away from the United States, the threat of cyber attacks based on an evaluation of likelihood of occurrence (100%) and severity of the attacks (which is certain to continue to escalate), I assess this risk to US continuity as high, especially in the 5 to 10 year time frame.

What do you think?

The Danger of Launching An Unpopular War

One of the circumstances that could theoretically result in massive disobedience and potentially bring the United States Government to its knees is the imposition of a military draft in support of a widely unpopular war.

The United States has seen ample evidence of this. Both North and South resorted to conscription during our own Civil War, and the system failed to work effectively for either side. Then, in 1917, Woodrow Wilson decided to rely primarily on conscription, rather than voluntary enlistment, to raise military manpower for World War I. The Selective Service Act of 1917 was carefully designed to avoid the pitfalls of the Civil War system and—by allowing exemptions for dependency, essential occupations, and so on. In 1917 and 1918 about 24 million men were registered and nearly 3 million inducted into the military services, with little of the resistance that characterized the Civil War. However, World War 1 was not an unpopular war; it enjoyed the support of most Americans. Similarly, In 1940 Congress passed the first peacetime draft legislation, led by Grenville Clark. It was renewed (by one vote) in summer 1941. That device provided the mechanism for required American forces to support our actions in WW 2. The mechanism survived WW 2, and supported America’s efforts in the Korean War as well. The Korean War called up men aged 18 1/2 to 35, but exempted World War II veterans. It was so unpopular that the President elected to refer to it as a “police action”; The US was weary after WW 1, and many weren’t buying the “Domino Theory” of Communist aggression. In this case, though, the impact of the draft was mitigated somewhat by the fact that many active US Forces remained enrolled after WW 2. With the exception of the Civil War, the clearest example of an application of the Selective Service draft in an unpopular American war was Viet Nam. Protests, riots, draft-evaders fleeing to Canada, and a plethora of other similar activity were clear evidence that something had to be done, and President Nixon brought that bloody war to an end before it ripped our nation apart at the seems. The combination of compulsory service and an extremely unpopular war represents a real threat to the stability and continuity of our government.

On the other hand, a great deal of the world outside the United States employs conscription as their primary device for induction of military recruits. One factor that must be considered in light of this situation is our ability as a nation to defend ourselves.

Today, our Selective Service System in the United States provides a contingency for conflicts that place personnel demands on our military that we cannot meet with our current all-volunteer forces. Today, young men aged 18–26 are required to register so that a draft can be more readily resumed; however, young women do not have to register. In 2004 as well as during the 1991 Gulf War, consistent with their enlistment contracts because of a clause that permits retention based on the needs of the military, some military personnel were held in the military longer than they anticipated. In 2003, legislation to reintroduce general conscription was defeated in Congress. After it met with widespread disapproval among lawmakers and the public. Congressman Charles B. Rangel introduced similar legislation on July 15, 2010 entitled H.R. 5741, which would require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform either military or civilian national service in support of national defense and homeland security. Personally, I support this concept if not the specific legislation, and it’s not often that I find myself on the same side of an issue with Mr. Rangel.

As I have mentioned in a separate article at www.sensiblethought.com there is much anecdotal evidence of the value of conscription. At least 30 of the 79 currently recognized countries maintain active conscription programs including Russia, China, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, and Iran. Among the most widely regarded conscription based national service programs is the Israeli military. In a 2009 book published by the Council on Foreign relations entitled “Start-Up Nation”, Dan Senor and Saul Singer explain Israel’s entrepreneurial successes as products of Israeli national character attributable largely to conscription. The book relates many accounts of how Israeli entrepreneurs leverage personal contacts made as conscripts in Israel’s army, navy and intelligence services. Top telecommunications service and equipment vendors emerged from Israel’s elite intelligence services, and the book describes the experience and training provided by Israel’s armed services as “much better than college.” Start-Up Nation closes by recommending that the United States implement its own conscript-based national service in order to replicate the camaraderie, social networks, and national sense of purpose that propel Israel’s innovative, entrepreneurial society. However, in spite of this evidence, no one likes to be told that – whether they want to or not – they are going into battle at risk of their life. And when the war is unpopular enough, it is devastating.

Therefore, even when one accepts that conscription for purposes of national service and enhanced national security is a good thing (as I do), the question that remains is whether a war will be launched by the United States that is so unpopular it is capable of inciting riots and widespread civil disobedience. The answer is that it is entirely possible, and not even very unlikely. Many US Presidents from both parties have simply ignored the limitations on their authority to launch military action through the War Powers Act since WW 2. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 (50 U.S.C. 1541-1548) is a federal law that was written to constrain the power of the President in committing the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress. It was adopted as a United States Congress joint resolution which provides that the President can send U.S. armed forces into action abroad only by authorization of Congress or in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” (For a discussion about what constitutes a “national emergency”, please refer to my article entitled “The Threat of Suspension of the Bill of Rights” also at www.sensiblethought.com.) The War Powers Act requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without a congressional authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. In spite of the clarity of the language in the War Powers Act, many Presidents have ignored it, including President Obama – in particular, with regard to US intervention in Libya.

I believe our actions in Libya will be an instructive test case in the event that a significant deployment of “boots on the ground” in Libya occurs. In an article called Why Are We Going to War with Libya? By Massimo Calabresi of Time Magazine, the author points out: “With air strikes apparently imminent against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi, America faces a simple question: why is the U.S. going to war in Libya? There may be good reasons, even compelling ones. But so far the answers from the Obama administration are shockingly opaque, contradictory and incomplete. Obama explained his decision in an East Room statement this afternoon. He said Gaddafi was suppressing his people and that “left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gaddhafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered.”

Even since the inception of the United States of America, many millions have been murdered and dozens of genocides have been perpetrated on humanity. The United States has intervened in almost none of them militarily – the major exception, of course, being WWII. If the United States did not intervene when up to 78 million Chinese were murdered, or when 23 million Russians were murdered, or when 8 million Belgians were murdered, or when 1.7 million Cambodians were murdered, or when 1.6 million North Koreans were murdered….. well, I think you see my point. The United States has not historically thrown itself like a local sheriff into the internal actions of other sovereign nations, applying military force to prevent despotic leaders from doing bad things. The United States should not decide that it will do so at some times and not do so at others, with no policy-based guidelines for channeling those decisions. The entire population of Libya as of 2009 is listed at 6, 419,925 people. Even if despotic leader Muumar Gaddafi were successful in killing half of the population it would pale in comparison to most of the really massive murders committed by Mao Ze-Dong, Stalin, Hitler, Tojo, Pol Pot, and so many others. So why intervene in Libya? And more importantly, if this conflict were to scale up to an all-out war, would it be unpopular enough to result in insurrection in the United States?

When the United States entered the Libya fray militarily, our country began to tread on dangerous ground. We departed from our nation’s traditional policies and began to act as a policeman in the internal governance of sovereign nations. What happens the next time there is a Russian invasion of Georgia, or another Tiananmen Square massacre; will we launch cruise missiles at Moscow or Beijing? Or will the United States only defend the helpless population of countries when those countries are too small to defend themselves against our intervention?

The US is committed already to a long-standing conflict in Afghanistan, and weary from our efforts in Iraq. Our resources are not limitless. In this case, we still have a large enough standing military – when combined with our allies who seem to want this conflict even more than we do – to take care of Libya without the invocation of a selective service draft. That will probably prevent this test of wills between the Federal Government and the citizens of the United States from reaching the arena of potential governmental meltdown. For that reason alone, I would rank the risk of insurrection and widespread rebellion stemming from the Libyan conflict to be low. However, I perceive that the propensity for US Presidents to act in an irresponsible manner, ignoring the clear constraints of the US Constitution and legislation such as the War Powers Act, make this a “medium” risk in the longer term. Libya and Syria are among several potential hotbeds of conflict that could ignite the fuse of American unrest.

What do you think?

Coming Up Dry: The Threat of a Catastrophic US Water Shortage

It is a fact that some parts of the United States have begun to run low on water. That has been a true statement since before I moved to Phoenix back in 1990, so I am sure that it is no surprise to people who live in the arid parts of America that have had water shortages for decades. The water problem is likely worse than most people realize. Many large US cities are low on water now and almost certainly face shortfalls over the next 10 to 20 years. A comprehensive July 2010 report from the National Resources Defense Council mapped areas at high risk of water shortage conflict.

The Wall Street Journal also did its own analysis of water supply and consumption in America’s largest cities, and focused on the thirty largest metropolitan areas. Their analysis identified ten cities that are likely to face severe shortages in the relatively near-term future. They include Orlando, Atlanta, Tucson, Los Vegas, Fort Worth, the San Francisco Bay area, San Antonio, Houston, and Los Angeles. (The Ten Biggest American Cities That Are Running Out Of Water – 24/7 Wall St.)

Severe droughts that could affect large cities could make life in some of America’s largest cities nearly unbearable for residents. A number of industries rely on regular access to water. Many people would be jobless if these industries could not continue operations. Another challenge is that cities have sold bonds based on their needs for infrastructure to move, clean, and supply water. Extreme disruptions of the water supply of any city would have severe financial consequences for cities as well as the states in which they are located.

Analysts all seem to agree that high costs will force the US water delivery system to devolve to the point that citizens will be asked to pay more and use less. And big business, still a minor player in this country’s water scene, is seeking a leading role. Private industry promises to develop the capability to create additional water availability, but the jury is still out on whether it can deliver. In 1999, Atlanta became the largest U.S. city to privatize its water system. Already the city is trying to decide whether to nullify its 20-year contract with United Water.

Challenges related to ownership, infrastructure, and health are on hold while governments grapple with the threat of water system terrorism. However, the threat of potential terrorist attacks on the nation’s water supply won’t be able to prevent the need to deal with these other pressing issues indefinitely. Cast-iron pipe installed in the 1880s, thinner conduits installed in the 1920s, and even less sturdy post-World War II tubes all represent a threat. The EPA’s cost estimate to refurbish these systems is $151 billion. Another estimate by a coalition of water industry, engineering, and environmental groups comes in at $1 trillion. Costs are projected to be as high as $6,900 per household in some small towns.

Americans’ health is already suffering. Water main breaks occur 237,600 times each year in the United States. Of the 619 waterborne disease outbreaks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked between 1971 and 1998, 18 percent were due to germs in the distribution system. Recent scientific research is undermining confidence in older methods of purifying water. Chlorination has been one of the 20th century’s great public-health achievements, eliminating waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid. But recently, nearly 200 women in Chesapeake, Virginia sued their water system, claiming that miscarriages they suffered in the 1980s and 1990s are traceable to trihalomethanes, chemicals produced when chlorine reacted with their region’s river-based water supply.

Experience in other countries suggests that privatization can, indeed, pour needed capital into the system for purifying and distributing drinking water. Investment in the United Kingdom increased more than 80 percent after it turned to total privatization. That country has 50,000 different water systems, and those will consolidate into bigger systems aligned with private companies and able to handle the growing number of water-treatment challenges. However, in Atlanta the experience has not been positive.

At the same time, pollution is shrinking water supplies while burgeoning population and weather are causing severe shortages. The use of private companies has not yet made good on its promise to deliver savings to consumers. In fact, most private water providers surveyed by U.S. News recently charged higher-than-average rates.

Civil disobedience stemming from shortages and the new water rates charged by private firms has already resulted in riots in countries such as Bolivia. Thus far, water related disputes in the United States have been resolved out in the political process. If things become desperate enough on a wide enough scale, of course, that will change. If the water shortage should become severe, it would threaten the food base provided within and from the United States, which would exacerbate the challenges faced by the United States Government on both the foreign and domestic fronts.

The population growth of US cities will not remain at current rates – trends like population growth rates never do. They will level off, and that will provide substantial abatement in the water shortage problem – and therefore the potential challenges arising from food shortages. This will help to prolong the life of some infrastructure elements through reducing the strain on them, but will not extend their usefulness indefinitely.

The United States faces a real threat in terms of the shortage of clean, healthy drinking water. However, all of the scientists with a modicum of objectivity admit that no one knows even how much ground water exists, and that no one is really able to project with confidence the overall availability of clean groundwater looking into the future.

As threats to US national security go, I would estimate that this problem is more likely to result in severe economic damage than result in the kind of profound shortages which could debilitate normal life and threaten normal Government operations. I would rate this risk as comparatively low, and expect the time frame for the risk to materialize – if it ever does – as a way-of-life-threatening debacle to be around 2040.

What do you think?

The Threat of Suspension of the Bill of Rights in America

What circumstances could cause the US Government to suspend the rights of its citizens, impose martial law, and run the country as a dictatorship? According to web-based pundits, the types of crises involved include:

  • The threat of imminent nuclear war,
  • Simultaneous rioting in multiple U.S. cites,
  • A national disaster (such as the outbreak of a new and deadly contagion) that presents an imminent danger to the general populous,
  • Widespread terrorist attacks on our own soil,
  • An economic depression that leaves tens of millions unemployed and without financial resources,
  • A major environmental disaster.

 

Under these circumstances, what kinds of rights and privileges would likely be suspended? For the answer to that question, it is educational to review the various executive orders that can be invoked by the Office of the President. Here are some of them:

  • #10990 enables the government to take over all modes of transportation and control of highways and seaports.
  • #10995 enables the government to seize and control the communication media.
  • #10997 enables the government to take over all electrical power, gas, petroleum, fuels and minerals, public and private.
  • #10998 enables the government to take over all food supplies and resources, public and private, including farms and equipment.
  • #11000 enables the government to mobilize American civilians into work brigades under government supervision; allows the government to split up families if they believe it necessary.
  • #11001 enables the government to take over all health, education and welfare functions and facilities, both public and private.
  • #11002 empowers the Postmaster General to operate a national registration of all persons: men, women and children, for government service.
  • # 11003 enables the government to take over all airports and aircraft, including commercial aircraft.
  • #11004 enables the Housing and Finance Authority to relocate communities, build new housing with public funds, designate areas to be abandoned as “unsafe”, and establish new locations for populations.
  • #11005 enables the government to take over railroads, inland waterways and storage facilities, public and private.
  • #11051 identifies the responsibilities of the Office of Emergency Planning and gives authorization to invoke all Executive Orders in times of heightened international tensions and economic or financial crisis.
  • #11310 grants authority to the Department of Justice to enforce the plans set out in Executive Orders, to institute industrial support, to establish judicial and legislative liaison, to control all aliens, to operate penal and correctional institutions, and to advise and assist the President.
  • #11049 assigns emergency preparedness function to federal departments and agencies, consolidating 21 operative Executive Orders issued over a fifteen-year period.
  • # 11921 allows the Federal Emergency Preparedness Agency to develop plans to establish control over the mechanisms of production and distribution, of energy sources, wages, salaries, credit and the flow of money in U.S. financial institution in any (undefined) national emergency. It also provides that when a state of emergency is declared by the President, Congress shall cannot review the action for six months.

In cases of true national emergency, many of the powers ascribed by these various executive orders are beneficial. For example, executive order #11002, which grants the Postmaster General authority to plan for a registration system, could be extremely beneficial in a scenario where an earthquake swallowed up all of St. Louis, and the families and friends of more than 2 million people were frantically trying to determine if their friends and loved ones had survived. However, the sweeping scope of the combination of these orders could result in a complete loss of the American way of life if they were abused. All it would require is for the President of the United States to invoke a state of national emergency. At that point, essentially all governmental authority would be under his immediate control. Then, at least for 6 months, a malefactor in that office could essentially maintain control as long as the perception of a national emergency could be maintained, and a lot of damage – some of it permanent – could be done.

Since 1979, a number of people have called the motives of creating these executive orders and the powers of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) into question. FEMA was created in 1979 under Presidential Memorandum 32 authored for President Carter by Professor Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor and former FEMA Advisory Board chairman. In a document written for the Trilateral Commission in the mid-1970s, Huntington described democracy and economic development as outdated ideas. As co-author of another report prepared for the Trilateral Commission, The Crisis of Democracy, Huntington also wrote:

“We have come to recognize that there are potential desirable limits to economic growth. There are also potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy. A government which lacks authority will have little ability short of cataclysmic crisis to impose on its people the sacrifices which may be necessary.” Huntington’s assertions were transposed into National Security Decision Directive #47 (NSDD47), which was enacted in July 1982. This law laid the groundwork for Emergency Mobilization Preparedness, a plan under which many legal constraints would be waived in the event of a national emergency. This plan was further strengthened in Public Law 101-647, signed into law in November 1990.

Essentially, when the President declares a national emergency (for any reason), FEMA can then implement Executive Orders 10995 through 11005. These Executive Orders permit a takeover by FEMA of local, state, and national governments and the suspension of constitutional guarantees. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Security_and_Homeland_Security_Presidential_Directive) Diana Reynolds authored a series of articles on this topic in 1990. At the time she was a Program Director at the Edward R. Murrow Center at Tufts University. She was also an Assistant Professor of Politics, Bradford College and a Lecturer at Northeastern Univeristy. Among the things she said (http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/fema/Fema_1.html )
“FEMA will have the authority to exert any sort of control that it deems necessary over the American public. A national state of emergency can be declared by a concurrent resolution of both houses of Congress or by the President in the case of natural disasters, nuclear war, a massive mobilization in anticipation of an enemy attack on U.S. territory, or domestic civil unrest.” She also said: ““The scenarios established to trigger FEMA into action are generally found in the society today, economic collapse, civil unrest, drug problems, terrorist attacks, and protests against American intervention in a foreign country. All these premises exist; it could only be a matter of time in which one of these triggers the entire emergency necessary to bring FEMA into action, and then it may be too late, because under the FEMA plan, there is no contingency by which Constitutional power is restored.” Conservative activist Howard J. Ruff agreed, and wrote: “The only thing standing between us and a dictatorship is the good character of the President and the lack of a crisis severe enough that the public would stand still for it.” (http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/fema/Fema_2.html)

So what is the danger that a highly skilled, manipulative and malevolent person could win a Presidential election, and utilize (or even orchestrate) a national disaster to achieve dictatorial control over the United States of America? It’s impossible to say, but when I consider this question, I cannot help but recall a partial list of things that the American public was willing to accept in the background of their current President, including his proud and close association with a pastor who for 20 years proclaimed that God should “damn America”, his association with unrepentant anarchist and bomber William Ayers, his close ties to the organization ACORN (which was later exposed as willing participants to tax evasion and under-age prostitution), and who presided over an administration so determined to get a nationalized health care bill into law that they openly bribed representatives for their votes (the “Louisiana Purchase” and “Cornhusker Kickback”.) Is it unreasonable to assume that this level of deliberate myopia on the part of the left, and apathy and naïveté’ on the part of the right could also permit the country to fall victim to such an individual? I think not. Still, these facts demonstrate only America’s vulnerability; not the likelihood of such an event.

The factors that make this scenario less likely include the vigilance of our press, and the remaining number of US Government officials who are of sound character and sound mind. They represent the checks and balances – formal and informal – that really hold things together. Certainly, over recent years we have seen both of these elements weakened dramatically. Public polls reflecting approval ratings for Congress are abysmal, and for the President they are not much higher. President Obama has recently directed the Department of Justice to stop enforcing those laws that he does not believe to be constitutional (the Defense of Marriage Act), ignoring the express will of the populace and the legislative processes of the United States, and he seems to be getting away with it.

So in summary, the potential impact of this scenario if it occurs is absolutely devastating to the United States as we know it, and as it was designed to operate by our founding fathers. The probability that it will occur, in my estimation, is still low to medium, but is increasing day by day.

What do you think?

Government Seizure of Private Assets: A Clear and Present Danger to America

In 1920’s Chicago, when Al Capone ran his notorious crime gang from Cicero Illinois, no one would have been surprised to hear about policemen “on the take”, and corrupt government officials. But the fact is that in 2011, private property is often unjustly confiscated and held indefinitely – even permanently – across the United States. One of the best accounts of this situation can be reviewed in a multi-page expose’ authored by Radley Balko entitled: The Forfeiture Racket (http://reason.com/archives/2010/01/26/the-forfeiture-racket). It happens at every level from local city police forces to the US Justice Department. It has been reported everywhere from the television show 60 Minutes (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/26/60minutes/main575343.shtml) to Louisiana State University (http://biotech.law.lsu.edu/cdc/cdc-2006.htm) and it seems to be worsening every year.

Proponents of constitutional law are becoming fearful that it’s not just property at risk – it may soon be forced labor as well. As LSU’s school of law points out: “While the government might seize a hospital, it could not operate it without its staff. This raises the question of whether the government, and especially the states, can force people to work at their jobs. Since surveys show that significant numbers of health care workers will not show up for work during an emergency such as a flu pandemic, it can be expected that absenteeism will be even higher if there is a government seizure. If the workers do not trust the government to run the facility safely, which is likely in the light of government actions taking in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, few workers may be willing to stay in their jobs. There is very little precedent for forced work, outside the military and jury duty, and a real question about its constitutional limits. This leads many public health law experts to advise negotiated agreements with facilities, based on regulatory powers, rather than seizures under the police power.”

Seizure of Property Through “Imminent Domain”

Almost everyone is, by now, familiar with the problems created by abuse of imminent domain legislation. As Warren Richey pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor last year, the Supreme Court recently decided “Government officials do not violate the US Constitution when they seize and demolish homes and businesses to make room for private development. In a major decision that narrows the constitutional protection of property owners, the US Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause authorizes government seizure of private property even when it merely offers a benefit to the public, rather than actual public use. The 5-to-4 decision means that state and local officials can continue to use the government’s power of eminent domain to take private property and turn it over to a private builder as a form of economic development.” In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned that the ruling could bring dangerous consequences for owners of homes and other properties. “Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded,” she wrote, and she is absolutely correct.

Seizure of Private Assets Such as Money, Tools, and Automobiles

There have been a plethora of stories on this topic over recent years, but the situation continues to worsen. (http://trueslant.com/allisonkilkenny/2010/03/31/asset-seizures-an-industry-of-legalized-stealing/) In an article entitled “Asset Seizures: An Industry of Legalized Stealing”, Allison Kilkenny says: National Public Radio has reported that between 2003 and 2007, the amount of money seized by local law enforcement agencies enrolled in the federal forfeiture program tripled from $567 million to $1.6 billion. Almost half of surveyed police departments with more than 100 law enforcement personnel said forfeiture proceeds were “necessary as a budget supplement” for department operations. So what we have here is desperate, broke police departments that have been serving under a “Gut The State” federal government (facilitated by both Republican and Democratic leadership) for decades, and so the cops are understandably looking to bring in new funding. Unfortunately, they’ve resorted to stealing from taxpayers, and the bullied, intimidated, and most importantly, poor citizenry can’t afford to fight back. More than 80 percent of federal seizures are never challenged in court, according to [attorney David Smith, author of the legal treatise Prosecution and Defense of Forfeiture Cases]. To supporters of forfeiture, this statistic is an indication of the owners’ guilt, but opponents argue it simply reflects the fact that in many cases the property was worth less than the legal costs of trying to get it back.” Recently, the Institute for Justice launched a national campaign against civil asset forfeiture (h/t Agitator). Their official website says: “civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today.” In addition, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, the University of Texas at Dallas criminologist John Worral surveyed 1,400 police departments around the country on their use of forfeiture and the way they incorporated seized assets into their budgets. Worral observed: “a substantial proportion of law enforcement agencies are dependent on civil asset forfeiture”, saying: “forfeiture is coming to be viewed not only as a budgetary supplement, but as a necessary source of income.” Almost half of surveyed police departments reported that forfeiture proceeds were “necessary as a budget supplement” for department operations.

Coordinated Government Theft

It is commonly thought that – especially when it comes to enforcing the law, US agencies have a lot of trouble communicating effectively. We all heard a lot of accounts of various emergency response organizations with radios and telephone that did not enable effective communications between firefighters, police, and other rescue workers around the 9/11 tragedy, and the Hurricane Katrina disaster. But it seems that when it comes to confiscating private property and keeping it, law enforcement agencies show remarkable levels of camaraderie. Consider Missouri police agencies and the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency, for example. As Balko points out: “In Missouri, for example, forfeited property is supposed to go to the state’s public schools. But in 1999 a series of reports in The Kansas City Star showed how Missouri police agencies were circumventing state law. After seizing property, local police departments would turn it over to the DEA or another federal agency. Under federal law, the federal agency can keep 20 percent or more of the money; the rest, up to 80 percent, goes back to the local police department that conducted the investigation. None of the money in these cases goes to the schools. The Kansas City Star investigation made national news at the time, but …. the practice of circumventing earmarking through federal “adoption” is now common all over the country. “It happens a lot,” he says. “It clearly goes against the intent of the state legislatures that passed these laws, but I don’t know of any state that has made a serious effort to prevent it from happening.”

Another Unholy Alliance: Private Industry and Federal Government

Recently, the Federal Government has approved of – if not directly participated in – the theft of retirement funds from American workers, with one of the most notable examples coming from the now-largely-government-owned General Motors & Delphi corporations. In her September 2010 article” The Delphi Disaster: An Economic Horror Story Obama Won’t Tell” (http://michellemalkin.com/2010/09/22/special-report-the-delphi-disaster-an-economic-horror-story-obama-wont-tell/), Michelle Malkin reports: “Consider the real-life horror story of 20,000 white-collar workers at Delphi, a leading auto parts company spun off from GM a decade ago. As Washington rushed to nationalize the U.S. auto industry with $80 billion in taxpayer “rescue” funds and avoid contested court termination proceedings, the White House auto team schemed with Big Labor bosses to preserve UAW members’ costly pension funds by shafting their nonunion counterparts. In addition, the nonunion pensioners lost all of their health and life insurance benefits. The abused workers — most from hard-hit northeast Ohio, Michigan and neighboring states — had devoted decades of their lives as secretaries, technicians, engineers and sales employees at Delphi/GM. Some workers have watched up to 70 percent of their pensions vanish.” Absolutely right. One of my family members, who was a GM employee and eventually a Delphi employee for 36 years told me recently: “Bill the $300,000 was money that my husband and I lost in Delphi and GM Stock when both stocks went to zero because of bankruptcy. I lost over $1700.00 per month in pension payments because I was above the PBGC max amounts. I also lost all insurances. I had paid into my optional life insurance for over 30 years and it just went away with a stroke of a pen.”

In a September 2010 article by Peter Raymond entitled “Retirement Fund Trillions Lure Government Grabbers” (http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/09/retirement_fund_trillions_lure.html) , these words appear: “Is the government making plans to confiscate your retirement money? The Obama administration is certainly exploring the idea. According to the Investment Company Institute, there was $7.835 trillion in IRA, 401K, 457, and 403b accounts in 2009. That is certainly too large a sum to be ignored by the big spending social engineers in Washington. Bureaucrats and politicians have been hard at work formulating a social justice excuse to legislate an historic seizure of private assets. This would not be the first time the statists extorted wealth from U.S. citizens on a massive scale. The public shakedown always employs a two-step tactic to repeatedly dupe the malleable electorate. First, the statists fabricate and incessantly excoriate a contrived crisis of social injustice that is victimizing helpless and unknowing Americans. Next, they “craft” — a term Pelosi uses again and again — insidious legislation disguised as a necessary and compassionate solution that makes participation and universal funding compulsory by force of the law. In February, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), in collaboration with the Department of Treasury, announced a “request for information” to study the Lifetime Income Options for Retirement Plans and asked “for ideas on how to help reduce the chances that workers will run out of funds during their retirement years.” EBSA recommends government intervention “to enhance retirement security for employees,” so it is considering an alternative program that facilitates “access to, and use of, lifetime income or other arrangements designed to provide a lifetime stream of income after retirement. In other words, the government intends to convince Americans that the abrupt seizure of trillions of dollars in defined contribution retirement accounts in exchange for token government payments is for their own protection and benefit.”

Looking Forward

Balko offers the following rather ominous warning: “Don’t be surprised, then, if forfeiture power expands in the coming years, particularly with respect to financial fraud, tax evasion, and other white-collar crimes.“ And therein lies the problem – the likelihood that this practice of seizing private assets, which is theft by any rational definition, will continue to expand in volume and scope. Now that the Supreme Court has determined that imminent-domain-based theft of private property is not unconstitutional, it is difficult to see why the other forms of governmental theft listed here would not be perfectly constitutional as well. When one reflects on the scope of Government’s ability and growing propensity to seize whatever they want from private citizens to fund the existence of their own agencies, and in some cases enrich themselves in the process, it is difficult to see this as anything less than en eventual threat to the existence of the United States Government – or at least to the freedoms and rights to things like private property ownership that we are accustomed to in America. As long as all of the various levels of government within the United States are sufficiently corrupt, and willing to turn a blind eye as long as they get their piece of the pie, these practices will continue. Few – with the exception of a few brave journalists – appear to be willing to expose the widespread contagion of theft and corruption. Fewer still are willing to incur the expense and risk of retaliation to pursue these matters in court – especially when they understand the financial cost of doing so. And thus far no one at any level of US Government has been ethical enough and courageous enough to stand up for the American people in this regard.

The question that remains is simply: “How widespread and how egregious will the situation have to be in order to incite rioting and other forms of civil unrest? What will the breaking point be? Here is my speculation about that:

Let’s assume for a moment that Peter Raymond is correct, and that the nearly $8 trillion in private 401k and IRA accounts is simply too big a temptation. The US Government pretends to be so concerned about the inadequate income of retirees, and steps in to ensure that all of us get “what we have coming to us”, thereby justifying their actions in confiscating all of our retirement savings in order to dole out “what we need” on a monthly basis. Would the confiscation of all retirement funds by the US Federal Government result in a national outrage adequate to cause widespread civil disobedience and rebellion among the American people? Probably not. Would there be a lot of bluster, and outcry from the citizens of the United States to their local Representatives? You bet. But like Obamacare, it is likely that an adequate volume of smoke-and-mirrors like Nancy Pelosi’s infamous “We have to pass the bill before we will know what’s in it.”, and sheer payoffs to critical legislators (Louisiana Purchase and Cornhusker Kickback) that it would be come law anyway. Then someone would likely challenge it in court, but assuming that the same Supreme Court justices who ruled on Imminent Domain were in place reviewing the case, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the confiscation of all private retirements accounts would be deemed constitutional as well. Of course, like Social Security, those of us who paid the most into the program will never live to see more than a fraction of it returned to us, because we are covering a much larger population of people who did not pay in over their lifetimes. It is merely another way to “spread the wealth” as President Obama told Joe the Plumber, and redistribute our income to others who did not earn it.

Now let’s assume that 10% (I picked this number absolutely out of the air) of all private homes and businesses are confiscated under “Imminent Domain” for some “higher and better use” (in the eyes of Government officials, of course.) These are homes and businesses in your community. You know there is nothing wrong with the structures, and that the only reason they are being condemned and purchased (or simply taken) against the will of their private owners is that the Government wants to do it – (Let’s say they want to put a new Home Depot, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath, & Beyond in to generate a higher tax base.) You see your friends and neighbors booted from their homes and businesses against their will. Would this incite you to participate in protests, and potentially threaten to overthrow the government entity involved? I doubt it. What if it was 20% of homes and businesses in your community? 40%? 75%? What if it was your home or business, and because the home has been in your family for generations, you don’t wish to see it destroyed for any amount of money? I’m thinking that most Americans will still cave in. Again, even if the Federal Government confiscates their homes with absolutely no compensation, it is my perception (I have no statistical evidence) that most Americans would do nothing but complain bitterly and start again somewhere else. (Notice that I said “most” here. There are parts of the country like Texas, Arizona, and Appalachia that I believe will not roll over so easily.)

Finally, as we saw in the article by KilKenny, in many cases the property (cash, automobiles, etc.) confiscated by government agencies – most often law enforcement agencies – is worth less than the legal costs of trying to get it back. So once again, most Americans whose property is confiscated without legitimate reason, simply shrug their shoulders, complain for a while, and do nothing. We are now at the point where this happens so frequently police departments build it into their annual operating budgets!

To summarize, then, I believe that the increasing adoption of confiscation of private assets by every level of government agency in the United States represents a significant and growing threat – a “clear and present danger” – to the American way of life. However, because of the willingness to tolerate abuse on the part of the vast majority of Americans, this cancer of corruption is not likely to threaten the continuity of the US Government in the foreseeable future. For that reason, I would rank its comparative position on that scale as “low” compared to other potential threats.

What do you think?

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