Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Beating up protesters is much easier than plugging potential security breaches in local utilities

Last week I had an interesting chat with a former security guard employed by Metro Nashville contractor Wackenhut to guard the Downtown water treatment plant near Salemtown. He told me that he believed the potential for catastrophic, lethal chlorine spill was real because the system does not have tight oversight.

Reportedly, the FBI is supposed to be regularly testing the security of the chlorine railroad tanker cars that deliver the concentrated toxic chemical during the water treatment process, but he never saw any conducted. He said that chlorine leak alarms went off several times in the small control building next to the tankers while he was on duty and that the building is supposed to be airtight, but on a number of occasions security personnel had to don gas masks while responding to the alarms.

Whenever there was a leak on-call "specialists," some of whom did not act like they knew how to resolve the problem, responded, according to the former guard. He also confirmed what has been reported in the past by others: the complex is remarkably vulnerable to sabotage given its proximity to Downtown Nashville.

Sandbagging tankers against the 2010 flood. 
It has been frustrating enough watching what looks a tragic accident (or act of terrorism) waiting to happen get attention from outside sources while Metro, state, and federal government officials seem to ignore the threat. A major chlorine spill would be a catastrophe for Downtown and both sides of the river. However, what I find even more galling is to watch how government misdirects its security forces away from real threats and toward innocuous inconveniences like the modest protests of dissenting citizens. Take the Department of Homeland Security, which assisted the Tennessee Highway Patrol's misguided crackdown on the relatively small Occupy Nashville protest. Give the protesters credit. They've fought the battle of Legislative Plaza against the state, gone to jail and won in the courts, and been acknowledged across media (along with overwhelming public support) for their perseverance.

Nevertheless, the committed followers who continue with the group beyond Governor Bill Haslam's bumbling heavy-handedness do not seem to expand. Moreover, ON has really not done much to occupy Nashville or otherwise live up to their name. They have not shown the slightest interest in occupying Nashville's Courthouse or the Chamber of Commerce or Gail Kerr's writing cubicle or the windmills of Jerry Maynard's mind or any other place of local political influence in Nashville. They've picketed NES and staged a street play at CCA. Today they're going to occupy the Tennessee Tower. They've basically given Mayor Karl Dean  (a Democrat with political aspirations) a pass. None of this is to slight the alternative democracy they're trying to run in the form of General Assemblies.

But really, was their nonviolent unwillingness to leave state-owned public property worth the attention of Homeland Security or the FBI or any other federal agency sworn to protect Americans against enemies, foreign and domestic? DHS overstepped its boundaries in assisting Bill Haslam's act of stepping on his own feet in the ON crackdown. Why are they not more focused on finding terrorists who might strike in Nashville or on securing vulnerable targets like the chlorine tankers at the Downtown water treatment facility?

Now we see reports that agencies like Homeland Security and the FBI may be coordinating responses with city halls across the country to suppress popular backlash against Wall Street and the financial industry. I have to wonder, given that President Obama broke his campaign promise to close George Bush's oppressive GITMO detention camps, whether the White House might actually be encouraging municipal and state-sponsored gagging of dissent as well as the compromise of universal human rights at home.

I notice this morning that Juan Cole is worrying about it, too:


Oakland Mayor Jean Quan let slip in an interview with the BBC that she had been on a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities about how to deal with the Occupy Wall Street movement. That is, municipal authorities appear to have been conspiring to deprive Americans of their first amendment rights to freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Likewise, A Homeland Security official let it slip in a phone interview that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had been strategizing with cities on how to shut down OWS protests. The FBI is said to have advised using zoning ordinances and curfew regulations, and to stage the crackdown with massive police force at a time when the press was not around to cover the crackdown ....

What these two reports show is a high-level conspiracy to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to protest peacefully.

When will we see Occupy Wall Street protesters hooded, dressed in orange jump suits, and sent to Guantanamo for military trials? When you let the government act without regard for the rule of law toward foreigners suspected of terrorism, you open yourself to be treated the same way if the rich decide to sic their police on you (it is mostly their police).


Chapel Hill, NC cops suppress OWS protesters who occupied
an abandoned building to perhaps start a free clinic
-- KATELYN FERRAL AND MARK SCHULTZ
Sounds like the FBI is too distracted with aiding local police--who in turn act like paramilitary thugs toward nonviolent protesters--to spend much time testing for security holes at strategically significant utilities like Metro Water Services. I would agree with those who argue that if Homeland Security is coordinating these crackdown efforts against Occupy Wall Street, then we are not very far away from the day when we will see protesters rounded up and detained GITMO-style. The federal security apparatus, whose overseer is the President of the United States, needs to keep its eye on the ball and focus on potential local threats that are real. It should avoid micromanaging protest response as if it were quelling hostile coup d'etat. It ought to fix holes in the system rather than rolling back the civil rights of Americans.

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