Is Bush Planning to Count the Twinkies You Eat or Set up a Gestapo?

November 24, 2002

by Mary Mostert, Analyst - Banner of Liberty

Fox News reported Thursday that passage of the new Homeland Security Act would create: A massive database that the government will use to monitor every purchase made by every American citizen is a necessary tool in the war on terror, the Pentagon said Wednesday.” 

NewsMax asks: “Did you realize the Pentagon will soon know about every gun, book, magazine, Twinkie, condom and everything else you buy? The reason for the massive database: to seek "patterns indicative of terrorist activity," defense officials said today.”

William Safire warned, in the New York Times, “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend - all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

And the John Birch Society says on its website the Homeland Security will “set the stage for even more dramatic moves toward a centralized, militarized police state under presidential control - an organ similar in function, if not in style, to the Soviet KGB or the German National Socialist Gestapo.”

Did the Pentagon really say it planned to monitor “every purchase made by every American citizen?” And is George W. Bush really planning a Gestapo or Soviet KGB in the guise of fighting terror? How many billions of dollars, do you suppose, would Congress have to appropriate to set up this new American Gestapo that would enable the government to track “every gun, book, magazine, Twinkie, condom and everything else you buy?”

Under-Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology Edward C. "Pete" Aldridge, who would apparently be responsible for the information gathering, said in a Pentagon Briefing November 20th only $10 million will be spent on it. That’s about $27 per person, which isn’t likely to be enough for the US Government to count the Twinkies eaten, much less the books we read. 

I read both the Pentagon transcript ( and most of Homeland Security Act HR 5005 ( Neither the Defense Department briefing or Title II of the Act entitled “Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection” said anything remotely resembling the Defense Department tracking: “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend.”

According to Section 202 of the bill, “Directorate for information analysis and infrastructure protection,” the undersecretary of Homeland Security is required to:

(A) Identify and assess the nature and scope of terrorist threats to the homeland;

(B) Detect and identify threats of terrorism against the United States; and

(C) Understand such threats in light of actual and potential vulnerabilities of the homeland.

Aldridge, the man who probably would be called upon to fill that post told reporters ( absolutely NOTHING about tracking everything every American buys. He did say: “The war on terror and the tracking of potential terrorists and terrorist acts require that we search for clues of such activities in a mass of data.” Note he says “A MASS OF DATA,” not ALL DATA INCLUDING THE TWINKIES AND BOOKS 271 MILLION AMERICAN BUY EACH DAY.

“It’s kind of a signal-to-noise ratio,” he went on. “What are they doing in all these things that are going on around the world? And we decided that new capabilities and new technologies are required to accomplish that task. Therefore, we established a project within DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, which would develop an experimental prototype -- underline, experimental prototype, which we call the Total Information Awareness System. The purpose of TIA would be to determine the feasibility of searching vast quantities of data to determine links and patterns indicative of terrorist activities.

“There are three parts to the TIA project to aid in this anti- terrorist effort. The first part is technologies that would permit rapid language translation, such as we use on computers now, we can - there are voice recognition capabilities that exist on existing computers.

“The second part was discovery of connections between transactions - such as passports; visas; work permits; driver’s license; credit card; airline tickets; rental cars; gun purchases; chemical purchases - and events - such as arrest or suspicious activities and so forth. So again, it tries to discover the connections between these things called transactions.

“And the third part was a collaborative reasoning and decision-making tool to allow interagency communications and analysis. In other words, what kind of decision tools would permit the analysts to work together in an interagency community?

“The experiment will be demonstrated using test data fabricated to resemble real-life events. We’ll not use detailed information that is real. In order to preserve the sanctity of individual privacy, we’re designing this system to ensure complete anonymity of uninvolved citizens, thus focusing the efforts of law enforcement officials on terrorist investigations. The information gathered would then be subject to the same legal protections currently in place for the other law enforcement activities.”

Somehow that sounds a bit different than the government counting every transaction every citizen in America makes or setting up a Gestapo. What it sounds like to me is a sensible plan to track terrorists as they move from place to place around the world and contact one another using modern technology.

The media and the John Birch Society notwithstanding, President Bush is not getting ready to count the number of Twinkies you eat, folks, or set up a Gestapo.

To comment:

Links: - Banner of Liberty – Transcript of Under-Secretary “Pete” Aldridge’s remarks about Homeland Security - - Defense Department Briefing on Homeland Security with - - Bill Number HR 5005 - Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Engrossed Amendment as Agreed to by Senate



Mary Mostert was writing professionally on political issues as a teen-ager in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1940s. In the 1960s, she wrote a weekly column for the Rochester Times Union, a Gannett paper and was one of 52 American women who attended the 17 Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland to ban testing of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. She was a licensed building contractor for 29 years, as she raised her six children. She served an 18 month mission as Public Affairs Director for the Africa Area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1990-91. In the 1990s she wrote a book, Coming Home, Families Can Stop the Unraveling of America, edited the Reagan Monthly Monitor and talk show host Michael Reagan’s Information Interchange for seven years. She now operates the website, Banner of Liberty.

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