By Nat Hentoff
I’ve long been annoyed and increasingly angered by a message from our government on radio, TV and other forms of communication in and around New York City, where I live and work:
“If you see something, say something. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.”
The message often ends: “Be careful, be safe.” And it’s attached to a means of communication with the government.
Whatever the informal informer thinks is dangerous is not accompanied by any evidence, of course. So if this careless government spy, let’s say, dislikes somebody in the neighborhood for whatever reason, the agent will turn in him or her.
I’ve been aware of little or no objection to this wide open dimension of government spying from most civil liberties organizations, nor – worse yet, from my perspective – any indignant, spied-upon citizen who doesn’t want to become “a person of interest” to the FBI or any other federal intelligence agency.
But, as usual, one ceaselessly vigilant constitutionalist, John Whitehead, founder of the always constitutionally alert Rutherford Institute, has sounded the national alarm. This Paul Revere of our time reported in one of his regular news commentaries:
“For more than a decade now, the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) has plastered its ‘See Something, Say Something’ campaign on the walls of metro stations, on billboards, on coffee cup sleeves, at the Super Bowl, even on television monitors in the Statue of Liberty.
“Now even colleges, universities and even football teams and sporting arenas are lining up for grants to participate in the program” (“Turning Americans into Snitches for the Police State: ‘See Something, Say Something’ and Community Policing,” Whitehead, rutherford.org, Sept. 22).
This is particularly revealing – and, I hope, shocking to some of you – proof of how conditioned the citizenry of this nation has become to living in an authoritarian society once described chillingly by George Orwell in “1984″.