Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Political Animal

Spy State

By Brian Morton | Posted 7/23/2008

"It's a free country."

How often do you hear someone say that phrase? Or, does this lyric ring a bell: "I'm proud to be an American/ where at least I know I'm free." You can never go broke selling something if you put the words "freedom," "liberty," or "American" in it. Just look at the "A" section of the yellow pages. Throw "extreme" in there if you want to sell to anyone under the age of 25. I'm waiting to pass the kiosk in the mall selling american extreme freedom liberty cell phones.

It's funny that we live in times when we're thumping our chests proclaiming how free and American we are while at the same time surrendering every inch of what that really means. Not just because the Department of Homeland Security solicited proposals from companies for shock bracelets for people traveling on airlines, in order to stun potential terrorists, not to mention the lady in row 23 who won't tell her annoying kid to sit down, shut up, and stop pounding on the backs of the seats.

I grew up overseas knowing that, as opposed to the police forces in many Third World countries who were apparatchiks and criminals often in cahoots with the ruling junta, most police in the United States were hard-working, honest, and nonpolitical. You often can't say that in places the late Frank Zappa considered uncivilized, countries where they don't yet have "a beer and an airline." But today, here at home, all it took was the proliferation of nonlethal weapons, and now you see YouTube videos left and right of cops using Tasers as punishment for not immediately complying with their orders. "It's a free country" has been replaced by "Don't tase me, bro."

What would good ol' Ben Franklin, the man who wrote, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety," say now, when the former superintendent of the Maryland State Police tells The Sun, "You do what you think is best to protect the general populace of the state." This was Tim Hutchins' response to the revelation of 46 pages of typed, single-spaced reports of state police undercover informants infiltrating and spying on peace activists. What was Hutchins afraid of, that 63-year-old Max Obuszewski was going to creep up in the middle of the night and bomb the Glen Burnie barracks with peonies? Then they could add him to the "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area" database, under "Terrorism-Florists."

I'd love to hear of some of Hutchins' other ideas of good judgment in the protection of the citizens of the state if this is his whom he thinks needs to be surveilled in the name of safety. Hutchins says all the spying was done legally, and the current state police superintendent, Col. Terrence Sheridan, agrees. So where exactly is the line, then? Can they spy on anyone, for any reason, as long as they have good intent? Sewing circles? Jogging clubs? Breast-cancer walkers? Celtic rock bands, perhaps? Because if they plan on making a habit of infiltrating peaceful groups in order to take notes on their activities, they should let us know, because nobody likes being the secretary, and this way we can get that work done on the taxpayer's dime. I'm guessing they might want to get a new maintenance contract for the copier at state police headquarters, though.

Hutchins says former Gov. Robert Ehrlich wasn't informed of the state police spying operation at the time. Why was this, pray tell? I presume that he was keeping the governor abreast of all the actual possible domestic terrorism threats--the usual clinic bombers, gun-toting anti-abortion crusaders, radial militiamen, and anthrax mailers. Did the cleverly named Campaign to End the Death Penalty not betray its secret murderous ways, thus not warranting ending up in a folder marked urgent on Bobby Smooth's desk? Perhaps the former governor and his wife might still be losing sleep in between their radio-show shifts thinking about how Pledge of Resistance might have been planning on showing up at their house with a sternly worded protest sign.

I hope Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has made the national name for himself on domestic anti-terrorism efforts, has the balls to come out and say that his state police are better and smarter than to spend bunches of hours of paid manpower taking notes on peace activists and people who oppose the death penalty. It's wasteful and silly and easily mockable, which thus requires me to take up valuable time and column space making fun of it when there are far more absurd targets of rancor and abuse occurring at the national level.

Related stories

Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter