The Department of Homeland Security watches. That’s a given. After all, we learn from an inscription in the wall outside the National Archives in Washington, DC, that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” But something is gravely wrong when the vigilance itself makes us less free.
That is how it has been since last spring at the latest. The very department that protects us on our home turf has itself made us less free. Worse, plenty of would-be government contractors want to get paid to help. PoliticusUSA has obtained a list of those persons, presented at the end of this article.
Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security asked for bids last April on a contract for “Media Monitoring Services,” to be used by the National Protection and Programs Directorate (DHS and NPPD, respectively). This includes building a database of traditional and social media outlets and a disturbing variety of detail about each one. Among other things, the app will allow users to “analyze the media coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, . . . reach, AVE [“Advertising Value Equivalency” – a measure of how well a public relations campaign is working], top posters, influencers, languages, momentum, circulation.” The project would mean tracking more than “290,000 global news sources” and “online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.” And with this, the DHS wants to be able to “build media lists based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role.”
Every systematic persecution in history has involved making lists of enemies, a list that eventually helps direct action against everyone on it. This kind of list is dangerous. That is why, for example, there is a law against compiling a list of gun owners. It would be too easy to use that list to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens. This prohibition protects our freedom under the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Why should the First Amendment be any different?
Just the prospect of the database raised alarm bells in leading publications. Michelle Kaminsky of Forbes warned that details of the plan “are enough to cause nightmares of constitutional proportions, particularly as the freedom of the press is under attack worldwide. And [‘]attack[‘] is not hyperbolic.” She continues, “we are entering potentially dangerous territory with the government keeping track of the [‘]sentiment[‘] of citizens and foreign nationals.”
Tyler Durden of zerohedge.com was far less optimistic. “Journalists now know that if they criticize the DHS, they will come under the scrutiny. They are watching you. They know what you say about them. They know where you live, who you work for, and how to contact you. The message is clear. Watch who you criticize.”
Concerns were intense enough on Capitol Hill that Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) slammed the whole idea and demanded answers in a letter to DHS. Thompson, Ranking Member on the House Homeland Security Committee, including how the DHS-NPPD will “ensure that the data collected . . . is not used for purposes outside the NPPD’s media monitoring program?”
And you know things are bad when even Snopes.com can’t disprove it.
For its part, the Department of Homeland Security poo-pooed these concerns early on. “All we want to do is read news stories posted online and email reporters our press releases. That seems pretty harmless,” said DHS Press Secretary Tyler Houlton in a draft April 2018 press release obtained by PoliticusUSA. He dismissed perfectly valid concerns as “bizarre media interest” that “should baffle anyone who works in government, business and — particularly —journalism. Yet, DHS’s recent public advertisement to secure the services of an ordinary [‘]news clip[‘] company to aggregate stories from around the world has hijacked the overexcited imagination of some.” Also, a tweet from Houlton was just plain nasty. “[T]his is nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media. Any suggestion otherwise is fit for tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists.”
The sarcasm is obvious and indicates hostility we can practically taste. A decent functionary, acting in the fullest of good faith, would have been nothing but straightforward and factual. His attitude shows exactly where his sympathies lie. They align perfectly with President Trump’s claim that the media are the “enemy of the people.” Spin it as Houlton might, the database is a dangerous tool in the hands of an administration with an autocratish president surrounded by autocratish sycophants.
But here’s the kicker: Too many presumably decent and freedom-loving Americans are ready to help. Just as history teaches that lists lead to rampant persecution, history also shows that it takes accomplices to build those lists. Now we know some of the DHS’s accomplices.
According to information obtained by PoliticusUSA, some five dozen individuals and companies offered “media monitoring services,” including about 30 whose identities are being kept secret. PoliticusUSA has been unable to determine who won the contract, or, for that matter, whether anyone did.
Sure, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Vigilance should have started with these folks. It didn’t. Now it’s up to you. Watch them.
ALQIMI Plasticity Inc.
1 Web 4 U, LLC
BWM Outcomes LLC
Adrian Drockur and Genius EuroConsult Inc.
1ST Research Corp.
IT Consulting Partners, LLC
MIREMS International Inc.
Management Science & Innovation, Inc.
Winvale Group LLC
Orbis Technologies, Inc.
The Rendon Group
Metronome Software, LLC
SYSTRAN Software, Inc.
WaveLength Market Analytics
Thomas Joseph Downing