Oversight over institutions of armed power

On Yes, Prime Minister, a character describing a situation in which a document was leaked discusses the difference between what you do when you really want to find the source of a leak and what you do when it is all just for show. When it is for show, he says, you conduct a leak inquiry. If it is for a serious investigation, you call in ‘Special Branch’.

Reading through the Wikipedia entry on ‘Special Branch’ gave me a bit of pause. It seems like the term is used to refer to two different types of sub-organizations, within broader security structures like national police forces and armies.

Outward intelligence gathering

One sort of Special Branch is the macho Jack Bauer sort that wears flak jackets and drops in on terrorists from helicopters. They are also the ones with the machines for listening to private phone calls and reading private emails, back doors into supposedly confidential databases, and other such legally dubious trickery.

Having some kind of organization of this sort is important – especially for keeping genuinely dangerous things like biological and nuclear weapons away from terrorists. At the same time, giving such an organization an increasingly broad mandate just increases the risk that the organization itself will become abusive, or that the intelligence it collects will be used for inappropriate purposes.

There has to be some kind of meaningful, outside, civilian scrutiny of such organizations. If they are allowed to sit up at the top of the chain deciding who can trust who, we cannot allow them to be a secretive band of unknown people. It may render them less effective as an intelligence organization, to be subject to civilian oversight, but it is ultimately important for the security of society that this be so.

Quite possibly, governments shouldn’t have any organizations that they are not prepared to appear before a fairly elected legislature (in secret, perhaps) and answer detailed questions about.

Internal oversight

The other sort of Special Branch answers the question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? They are a response to the reality that organizations like armies and police forces attract bullies – people who are themselves attracted to power. At times, such people will abuse that power. That danger is increased enormously when the people are put within structures that will protect them, regardless of what they do. If the police force protects officers who use excessive force, their violent tendencies are likely to get worse.

Having a Special Branch to check for this kind of corruption in the rest of the service makes a lot of sense, and is an important check on police power. After all, a bad police officer is a scary thing. They are armed with weapons and power, and the judge will almost always take their word for how a situation went (unless there are photos or a video).

Changing balance

On Yes, Prime Minister, I think they were talking about the internal sort of Special Branch, looking for wrongdoing within powerful organizations. These days, I fear the outward-looking type of Special Branch has grown more powerful by comparison, partly by capitalizing on the fear people have of terrorism (despite the tiny chance of being a victim).

When people are fearful of non-governmental forces, they can easily err and make the government overly mighty. People also need to maintain in their minds the corresponding fear of abuse by government itself. The government is so powerful that it can do considerable harm by accident, and its control over information is such that we may never really know what accidents or abuse have taken place.

Terrorists can kill some innocent civilians – maybe a lot if they get hold of something dangerous. But the police can create a police state. They can seize the government with one of their own by force, if the other institutions of the state become weak enough. We need independent people watching over them more than we need them to be looking into the local radical cell.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

52 thoughts on “Oversight over institutions of armed power”

  1. “Terrorists can kill some innocent civilians – maybe a lot if they get hold of something dangerous. But the police can create a police state.”

    I strongly agree. Many Torontonians feel that they’ve already lived in a Canadian police state, during the G20, albeit only for a week or so. That feeling was confirmed by the Ontario ombudsmen’s report.

    Relevant: http://northernsong.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/this-is-what-a-charter-violation-feels-like-the-illegal-police-raid-on-429-brunswick/

  2. One way of expressing how police and the armed forces can be seen as more dangerous than terrorists is to ask people if they would rather live in a state with frequent terrorist attacks – like Northern Ireland during the worst periods, or Israel – or a police state – like North Korea.

  3. That’s an excellent question. Although it might be biased by other factors. For instance, I think my choice of N.I. over N.K. has something to do with my Christian/protestant upbringing.

  4. I think I would rather live in Northern Ireland. I could rationalize that the terrorist attack were random. The oppression of the police state in North Korea is intentional. I do not know about Israel.

    The level of police powers are not determined in a vacuum. It is related to other circumstances. Generally the population is prepared to tolerate more increased police powers were there are internal threats. Israel and Northern Ireland are linked in my political consciousness. The Time of Troubles in N.I. and the 6 Day War in Israel were among the first political events I followed . Both were coupled with increased police powers. I am glad to see how the dissatisfaction of the people with the factionalism in N.I. led to the decreased role of the extreme elements. This led to the decrease of police powers. I wish the same Israel.

    It is the present of extremist elements that harm others that justifies for me providing the police with increased powers. Lessen those extremist elements, or at least when they harm others, and the justification for increased police powers is reduced.

    I feel fortunate to live in Canada where neither terrorist activity or police abuse are common.

  5. “I could rationalize that the terrorist attack were random.”

    From what I’ve studied concerning N.I., very little about terrorist attacks were “random”.

    Also, I’ve never heard the term “The Time of Troubles” used to describe “The Troubles” in N.I. I assumed historians make the distinction because “The Time of Troubles” is used to describe the period in Tsarist Russia preceding the rule of Peter the Great’s father.

  6. It’s interesting that its common in Canada to know more about N.I. or N.K. than Israel. As citizens, we are not responsible through involvement of the Canadian army in supporting terrorism in N.I. or the police state of N.K.

  7. History will face off against national security this week in a court battle over decades-old intelligence files on socialist icon Tommy Douglas.

    The case pits the right of Canadians to see historically significant information against the government’s determination to protect the secrets of the spy trade.

    Arguments are to be heard Wednesday in Federal Court.

    The Canadian Press is challenging the federal government’s refusal to fully disclose a 1,142-page dossier on Douglas, a former Saskatchewan premier and federal NDP leader who is widely hailed as the father of medicare. The file was amassed by the RCMP from the late 1930s until shortly before Douglas’s death in 1986.

    Paul Champ, lawyer for The Canadian Press, said the case is about more than gaining access to historical material on Douglas, whom he said ”played a significant role in shaping Canadian society today.”

    ”The greater precedential impact of this case relates to when and how Canadians can access important historical documents and to what extent can our security intelligence branches try to sit on information indefinitely.”

    The battle dates back to 2005, when reporter Jim Bronskill of The Canadian Press requested the Douglas file under the Access to Information Act.

    Library and Archives Canada, which is currently in possession of the Douglas dossier, initially released over 400 pages, some of them heavily censored. The agency maintained fuller disclosure would jeopardize the country’s ability to detect, prevent or suppress ”subversive or hostile activities.”

  8. Review of “The Lost Revolution: The Official IRA and The Workers’ Party”

    “The Lost Revolution: The story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party is the first attempt to write a cohesive and comprehensive history of the Official IRA, it’s role in the early troubles, and its declining role from 1972 onward as the marxist republicans continually emphasized politics and reform over abstentionism and terror. It gives a view of the split altogether different from the story told by the Provisionals, contesting the standard story of 1969 which claims the IRA failed to protect Catholic communities. And it chronicles in a detail which frankly I can not appreciate (but which surely pleases those who know more than I about this history and all its personalities) the progression of “Official Sein Fein”, which became “Sein Fein: The Workers’ Party”, then later simply “The Worker’s Party”, and which eventually split into “The Workers’ Party” and “The Democratic Left“, the latter of which merged with the Labour party of Ireland in 1999. It also delineates the internal conflicts in the Official’s paramilitary wing, which itself split at numerous points when its members became unwilling to play a subservient, defensive and increasingly unrecognized role in the organisation. These splits resulted in formation of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1974, the “Official Republican Movement” (ORM) (1997). In fact, by the time of decommissioning (2009), the OIRA no longer existed and the arms caches belonging to the OIRA were completely under the control of ORM.”


  9. After some very unprofessional and, in some cases, criminal acts, we now understand that legislation is before Parliament calling for an independent oversight committee and for some much needed improvement to the various disciplinary processes.

    It gives me little satisfaction to learn that at least some of my 1999 comments, as outlined in a paper titled The Politicization of the RCMP, may be up for discussion. While the paper was initially authored for my presentation to the American Society of Criminologists meeting in Toronto, it became widely circulated. Rather than take note of my comments, a senior member who was obviously representing the force’s management at that time was quoted in a national newspaper as saying “the police operations of the RCMP are independent from political interference . . . there is a clear and distinct line between operations and the administration.”

    My written comment was: “By being a deputy minister in government, the RCMP commissioner is frequently seen as being in a conflict position. On the one hand, he/she has an obligation to Canadians to ensure that the law is enforced ‘without fear, favour or affection,’ but this is not possible if government (in which he/she holds a position of executive status) imposes restraint that causes investigations to be abandoned or ignored. In my opinion, the RCMP commissioner should not be in a ministerial organization, but rather, that this position report to Parliament in the same manner as the auditor general of Canada.”

  10. How fitting that the report of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on the policing of the G20 should be released on the fifth anniversary of the native occupation in Caledonia, Ont. The same organization now screaming for a full-scale public inquiry into alleged abuses – particularly, the troubling breach-of-the-peace arrest authority used over that June weekend – was, and continues to be, absolutely silent about similar and worse abuses that occurred in the small town just south of Hamilton, just a few klicks from the Six Nations reserve.

    The differences between the two events are, of course, notable.

    The G20 saw the biggest mass arrests in Canadian history; Caledonia was by comparison small potatoes, although the same breach-of-the-peace authority was also misused there, with non-native activists like Gary McHale subjected to detention.

    But for sheer abuse of raw state power, nothing touches Caledonia – and where the G20 lasted but three days, the situation on the former Douglas Creek Estates remains formally unresolved.

    Consider that, at its height, the following happened in Caledonia under the noses of the Ontario Provincial Police

  11. The police and firearms
    Calling the shots
    A debate about how and when bobbies should use guns

    Feb 24th 2011 | from the print edition

    LESS than 5% of police officers in England and Wales carry a gun on duty. Infinitely fewer fire one, and fatal shootings by police are vanishingly rare (there were two in 2009-10). Every incident in which bullets are discharged is investigated by an independent commission. To a degree that many Americans find incredible, this fairly violent country is policed by men and women who might, on a difficult day, pack a baton and a can of tear gas.

    That is partly because, for all the tabloid alarm over the alleged spread of weapons, gun crime in England and Wales is low, and falling: it made up less than 1% of all reported offences last year. But it is mainly because the policing tradition is rooted in 19th-century Peelian principles: the police are not supposed to impose order on an unwilling populace, but to operate with the consent of the community. The display and use of force is meant to be minimal.

  12. Up to 85 per cent of B.C. adults listed in police database, BCCLA says
    Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun

    It is disturbing that up to 85 per cent of B.C. adults have their names in a police computer database designed to track criminals, says the BC Civil Liberties Association.

    The association has written to B.C Solicitor-General Shirley Bond, asking her to investigate why the majority of B.C.’s law-abiding citizens are in the PRIME-BC database.

    Even more troubling, said Robert Holmes, president of BCCLA, is that no information is available as to how long the information is kept on file.

    The computer database is used by police to record contacts with citizens, including “negative police contact,” which can then be used to prevent people from getting jobs, the BCCLA claimed.

    “With more than eight out of every 10 B.C. adults in this database, we’re wondering if people by know what the police are writing about them,” Holmes said in a statement Tuesday.

    “These notes by police officers can prevent people from getting jobs, schooling and training, and it is difficult if not impossible to remove or alter incorrect information. The only way to find out if a record exists or what it might contain is to file a freedom-of-information request.

    Holmes said the most recent annual report for PRIMECorp, the Crown corporation that administers the database, indicates that there are 4,452,165 “master name records” in the computer database.

  13. Ecuador expelled the American ambassador to Quito, Heather Hodges, after she was quoted in a leaked diplomatic cable as saying that the country’s police suffered from generalised corruption. Ms Hodges’s departure follows the resignation of Carlos Pascual as American ambassador to Mexico, after his frank assessment of the shortcomings of Mexico’s police was similarly WikiLeaked.

  14. NOLA cops so corrupt Feds have taken over

    Cory Doctorow at 10:24 AM Monday, Apr 25, 2011

    The Department of Justice has concluded its investigation into New Orleans’s notoriously corrupt police force and concluded that it is so bad, so rotten from top to bottom, that the police have been placed under the supervision and authority of a fed judge. Next, the feds will take control of the city’s hellish jails. The New Statesman’s report on NOLA’s version of justice sounds like something out of Baghdad or a Mexican border town or a wild west novel about corrupt frontier towns. Or Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Arizona.

    Kevin Poulsen at Wired.com reports that the US “has dropped criminal investigation of the whistleblower who exposed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program to the New York Times in 2004, and will evidently not be filing criminal charges for the historic leak.”

  15. False Witness
    April 12, 2011

    Justice is impossible if we can’t trust the police to tell the truth.

    By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 12th April 2011.

    “From the information I had, that is what I believed happened to me.”(1) So Simon Harwood, the police officer who pushed Ian Tomlinson to the ground at the G20 protests two years ago, told the inquest into his death. The information he had led him to believe, two weeks after the event, that he fell to the floor, lost his baton, received a blow to the head and was involved in violent and dangerous confrontations. Last week he admitted that, though he had made these claims in a signed statement, none of it happened. So what was this information? Who gave it to him? Had he been brainwashed?

    We have yet to hear John Yates’s explanations for the ever-widening gulf between what he told parliament and what appears to have happened in the News of the World phone-hacking case, but they will doubtless be just as persuasive. Yates is acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police. He told a parliamentary committee that the police knew of only 10 or 12 people whose voicemail had been intercepted; that there was no evidence that MPs’ phones had been hacked; that the Crown Prosecution Service had given the police “unequivocal” advice that the paper had committed an offence only if it picked up messages before its victims did; that the police had contacted everyone targeted by the paper; and that the police had ensured that the phone companies had warned all the suspected victims(2,3). It appears that none of this is true.

    A Scotland Yard briefing paper shows that “a vast number” of people had their phones hacked, including at least eight MPs. The director of public prosecutions has testified that the claims Yates made about CPS advice are false. There are plenty of victims who have not been contacted by the police, and the phone companies say that the police didn’t ask them to contact their customers(4,5,6).

  16. The New Orleans police
    Guarding the guards
    A perp walk for the enforcers

    Apr 14th 2011 | NEW ORLEANS | from the print edition

    BY ANY measure, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has been going through a rough patch. In December a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against three of five city policemen involved in the fatal shooting of a man, and the subsequent burning of his corpse, a few days after Hurricane Katrina struck, and then covering up the whole affair.

    On April 13th a federal jury found against two officers who had been accused of beating another man so badly that they ruptured his spleen before dropping him off at the hospital and claiming he had fallen down. And this summer the Danziger Bridge incident, the most serious, is expected to go to trial. Six civilians were shot by police on or near that bridge in the days after Katrina, two of them fatally. They were unarmed and blameless, according to the five officers who have pleaded guilty to taking part in the shooting or helping to whitewash the police investigation of it. Six other cops will try to beat the rap.

    Against that grim backdrop lawyers from the Justice Department recently unveiled a blistering report that seeks to diagnose everything that is wrong with the department. The report took ten months and is 157 pages long; federal authorities have described it as the broadest-ever investigation of a city police department. It is expected to form the basis of a set of reforms that will be imposed on New Orleans and enforced by a federal judge. The federal government has taken similar actions in the past against police departments in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

  17. “In complex modern societies, many complications intrude on this simple model of societal security. Decisions to cooperate or defect are often made by groups of people — governments, corporations, and so on — and there are important differences because of dynamics inside and outside the groups. Much of our societal security is delegated — to the police, for example — and becomes institutionalized; the dynamics of this are also important. Power struggles over who controls the mechanisms of societal security are inherent: “group interest” rapidly devolves to “the king’s interest.” Societal security can become a tool for those in power to remain in power, with the definition of “honest majority” being simply the people who follow the rules.”

  18. The security service, thought to number at least 65,000 full-timers, has been responsible for most of the violence. Set up by Hafez Assad soon after his coup in 1970, its 15-odd branches fall under four main intelligence headings: general, political, military and air force. Only tenuously linked to any civilian institution, they are above the law and sign off on virtually all big decisions. Their heads report directly to Mr Assad. “They provide security for the regime, not for the state,” explains a well-informed local. “They will never defect.” They also spy on each other. On occasions during the current crackdown their members have arrested or shot people from rival branches.

  19. Police governance
    Quis custodiet?
    Government plans to bring politics into policing might create more problems than they solve

    “THE police are the public and the public are the police,” said Sir Robert Peel, founder of London’s Metropolitan Police, almost two centuries ago. That officers cannot cut crime without the public’s co-operation has come to be seen as the basic principle of policing in a democratic society. The government believes that cherished relationship has broken down.

    The men and women in blue have become divorced from local concerns, the thinking goes, too controlled by Whitehall and too dismissive of the low-level yobbery that blights many lives. So a bill currently making its way through Parliament would dramatically change how and by whom the police are held to account.

    At the moment each force answers to a Police Authority, an appointed body comprising councillors and others, which sets local priorities and a local policing levy, and hires and fires the chief constable (who otherwise enjoy “operational independence”). The Home Office approves those appointments, sets national strategy and determines cash grants. Under the government’s plan, from May 2012 the authorities will be replaced by elected police and crime commissioners—one for each of the 41 police-force areas in England and Wales outside London—who will in effect inherit the authorities’ powers.

  20. The Danziger Bridge trial

    Some justice at last

    But a sorry commentary on the state of policing at the time of Katrina

    FIVE New Orleans policemen who played a role in the Danziger Bridge shootings, which killed two people and badly wounded four others six days after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, are now facing long federal prison sentences, along with another five officers who earlier pleaded guilty.

    The unequivocal message from the jury that handed down its verdicts on August 5th—five out of five officers convicted; guilty verdicts on 25 out of 25 counts—should end the debate that has swirled around the city for nearly six years: could police excesses in the wake of a cataclysmic storm that caused chaos and terror ever be excused? It seems not.

    The police had been responding to reports of men firing on police on a nearby highway overpass. Girded for battle, they loaded into a truck and piled out next to a group of people on the bridge. They shot five of them, killing one, and then chased a mentally disabled man further up the bridge, and killed him too. There was no evidence that any of the people had been armed, let alone shooting.

  21. Dr Kassin suggests that participants may have the naive—though common—belief that the world is a just place, and that their innocence will emerge in the end, particularly in the case of the alleged video evidence. One participant, for example, told him, “it made it easier [to sign the confession] because I had nothing to hide. The cameras would prove it.”

    In cases like that, confession is seen as a way to end an unpleasant interrogation. But it is a risky one. In the real world, such faith can be misplaced. Though a lot of jurisdictions require corroborating evidence, in practice self-condemnation is pretty damning—and, it seems, surprisingly easy to induce.

  22. South Africa’s police

    Kill and be killed

    Where policing is a dangerous job and a danger to the community

    “A POLICEMAN should not die with his gun in his hand,” Bheki Cele, South Africa’s police chief, proclaimed recently at the funeral of yet another slain officer. “Your job,” he told mourning colleagues, “is to arrest criminals and if someone makes your job difficult, make sure it is not you that will be killed.” Over the past five years, more than 100 officers a year on average have been gunned down. The situation, Mr Cele declared, has become “a national crisis”.

    The police death toll in a country that sees itself as the most civilised in Africa is indeed shocking. But the tally of civilians killed by the police is even worse. Last year 566 South Africans (out of a population of 50m) were killed “as a result of police action”—up by half over the previous six years. Most were suspects shot dead during arrest (there seems to have been little attempt to incapacitate them); 16 were innocent bystanders. Seven suspects were tortured to death. South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of recorded homicide by police.

  23. Psychology
    All power tends to corrupt
    But power without status corrupts absolutely
    Oct 1st 2011 | from the print edition

    DURING the second world war a new term of abuse entered the English language. To call someone “a little Hitler” meant he was a menial functionary who employed what power he had in order to annoy and frustrate others for his own gratification. From nightclub bouncers to the squaddies at Abu Ghraib prison who tormented their prisoners for fun, little Hitlers plague the world. The phenomenon has not, though, hitherto been subject to scientific investigation.

    Nathanael Fast of the University of Southern California has changed that. He observed that lots of psychological experiments have been done on the effects of status and lots on the effects of power. But few, if any, have been done on both combined. He and his colleagues Nir Halevy of Stanford University and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University, in Chicago, set out to correct this. In particular they wanted to see if it is circumstances that create little Hitlers or, rather, whether people of that type simply gravitate into jobs which allow them to behave badly. Their results have just been published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

  24. As an individual, what security threats scare you the most?

    My primary concerns are threats from the powerful. I’m not worried about criminals, even organised crime. Or terrorists, even organised terrorists. Those groups have always existed, always will, and they’ll always operate on the fringes of society. Societal pressures have done a good job of keeping them that way. It’s much more dangerous when those in power use that power to subvert trust. Specifically, I am thinking of governments and corporations.

    Let me give you a few examples. The global financial crisis was not a result of criminals, it was perpetrated by legitimate financial institutions pursuing their own self-interest. The major threats against our privacy are not from criminals, they’re from corporations trying to more accurately target advertising. The most significant threat to the freedom of the Internet is from large entertainment companies, in their misguided attempt to stop piracy. And the cyberwar rhetoric is likely to cause more damage to the Internet than criminals could ever dream of.

    What scares me the most is that today, in our hyper-connected, hyper-computed, high-tech world, we will get societal pressures wrong to catastrophic effect.


  25. Counterterrorism Agents Were Told They Could Suspend the Law

    “According to the FBI’s internal inquiry on counterterrorism training, the FBI taught agents that the Bureau ‘has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedoms of others;’ that agents should ‘never attempt to shake hands with an Asian;’ that Arabs were ‘prone to outbursts’ of a ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ nature.”

  26. Most Canadians wouldn’t surrender rights to fight terror: poll

    A new survey marking this week’s 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms shows Canadians remain largely — but far from unanimously — resistant to surrendering certain rights in the name of reducing the threat of terrorism.

    Close to two-thirds (64 per cent) of the 1,522 respondents in a poll commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies disagreed with the statement: “In order to curb terrorism in this country, it will be necessary to give up some civil liberties.”

    But significantly fewer respondents (57 per cent) balked at the idea of forcing citizens to carry state-issued I.D. cards and being subjected to random police checks, with 43 per cent agreeing that “everyone should be required to carry a national identity card at all times to show to a police officer upon request.”

  27. Transparency fail II, part C

    The Powers that Post have finally acted to correct their mistaken link to the missing CSE Report on Plans and Priorities (previous blog posts here and here). But the news is not good.

    Instead of a working link to the document, we now see the following text:

    “Communications Security Establishment Canada (for security reasons, the Communications Security Establishment Canada Report on Plans and Priorities and the Departmental Performance Report are exempted from disclosure.)”

    This is an enormous backward step for transparency and public (and parliamentary) accountability for CSE.

    As I pointed out earlier, the result will be that a wide range of information that CSE has been reporting publicly through the equivalent DND documents for 15 years will now no longer be made available.

  28. Crown attorneys are often not able to talk about their cases, but lawyer Robin Parker, a former Crown, describes prosecuting police as the “grandmaster sensei cases of any prosecution service.

    “It is extremely difficult for a prosecutor to successfully pierce the thin blue line, particularly when the evidence comes from people we are not used to trusting, like alleged drug dealers and informants.

    “On the one hand, who better for a man in uniform to victimize than a person who will never be believed? On the other, who better to falsely accuse a man in uniform than someone with nothing to lose? This is the essence of the conundrum.”


  29. His doctoral thesis in 1959 inquired into the political behaviour of blacks in Chicago, finding that their subservience to white powerbrokers was a way of getting benefits for themselves. His masterwork “Bureaucracy” (1989) looked at armies, prisons and schools as well as government agencies, discovering that policymakers rarely knew what the cliff-face workers did. From the mid-1960s he was periodically sucked in to sit on government commissions agonising over the crime rate, because no one else asked questions about it in the fresh-eyed way that he did.

  30. TORONTO — The head of Canada’s federal prisons sought to boost morale among guards in the days after the release of disturbing surveillance videos showing the drugging and duct-taping of a teenaged inmate who died in custody, documents show.

    In an internal memo to staff approved by the highest levels of government, Don Head, commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, admitted the treatment of Ashley Smith was substandard, but insisted it did not reflect usual standards.

    “I understand that this negative media coverage, especially the videos of Ashley Smith in custody, is upsetting to Canadians, Ashley Smith’s family, and many of you,” Head, who has otherwise not spoke publicly, wrote in the memo Nov. 8.

  31. None of the judges of the FISA court were vetted by Congress. They were appointed by a single unelected official: John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. And then there’s the fact that “the FISA court hears from only one side in the case—the government—and its findings are almost never made public.” A court that is supreme, in the sense of having the final say, but where arguments are only ever submitted on behalf of the government, and whose judges are not subject to the approval of a democratic body, sounds a lot like the sort of thing authoritarian governments set up when they make a half-hearted attempt to create the appearance of the rule of law.

    You see, democracy here at home must be balanced against the requirements of security, and it is simply too dangerous to leave the question of this balance to the democratic public. Open deliberation over the appropriate balance would require saying something concrete about threats to public safety, and also about the means by which those threats might be checked. But revealing such information would only empower America’s enemies and endanger American lives. Therefore, this is a discussion Americans can’t afford to have. Therefore, the power to determine that this is a discussion the public cannot afford to have cannot reside in the democratic public. That power must reside elsewhere, with the best and brightest, with those who have surveyed the perils of the world and know what it takes to meet them. Those deep within the security apparatus, within the charmed circle, must therefore make the decision, on America’s behalf, about how much democracy—about how much discussion about the limits of democracy, even—it is safe for Americans to have.

    This decision will not be effective, however, if it is openly questioned. The point is that is not up for debate. It is crucial, then, that any attempt by those on the inside to reveal the real, secret rules governing American life be met with overwhelming, intimidating retaliation. In order to maintain a legitimising democratic imprimatur, it is of course important that a handful of elected officials be brought into the anteroom of the inner council, but it’s important that they know barely more than that there is a significant risk that we will all perish if they, or the rest of us, know too much, and they must be made to feel that they dare not publicly speak what little they have been allowed know. Even senators. Even senators must fear to describe America’s laws to America’s citizens. This is, yes, democracy-suppression, but it is a vitally necessary arrangement. It keeps you and your adorable kids and even your cute pet dog alive.


  32. Mr Balko manages to avoid the clichés of both right and left, and provokes genuine outrage at the misuse of state power in its most brutal and unaccountable form: heavily armed police raiding the homes of unarmed, non-violent suspects on the flimsiest of pretexts, and behaving more like an occupying army in hostile territory than guardians of public safety.

    “Rise of the Warrior Cop”, Mr Balko’s interesting first book, explains what policies led to the militarisation of America’s police. To his credit, he focuses his outrage not on the police themselves, but on politicians and the phoney, wasteful drug war they created.

    Ronald Reagan made Nixon’s drug policies tougher. He dramatically increased both federal involvement in combating drugs and asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize goods and property believed to be used in crime or, more controversially, purchased with the proceeds of crime. This gave the police an incentive to find connections between property and drug activity, often at the expense of more serious crimes. As Mr Balko notes, “Closing a rape or murder case didn’t come with a potential kickback to the police department. Knocking off a mid- or low-level drug dealer did.”

    Financial incentives also came through drug-war grants and, after the attacks of September 11th 2001, homeland-security grants that allowed police departments to buy surplus military hardware of dubious utility. Fargo, North Dakota, has received $8m in grants to buy goodies such as an armoured truck with a rotating turret—used “mostly for show, including at the annual city picnic, where police parked it near the children’s bouncy castle”.


  33. Rebuilding trust is not easy, as anyone who has betrayed or been betrayed by a friend or lover knows, but the path involves transparency, oversight and accountability. Transparency first involves coming clean. Not a little bit at a time, not only when you have to, but complete disclosure about everything. Then it involves continuing disclosure. No more secret rulings by secret courts about secret laws. No more secret programs whose costs and benefits remain hidden.

    Oversight involves meaningful constraints on the NSA, the FBI and others. This will be a combination of things: a court system that acts as a third-party advocate for the rule of law rather than a rubber-stamp organization, a legislature that understands what these organizations are doing and regularly debates requests for increased power, and vibrant public-sector watchdog groups that analyze and debate the government’s actions.

    Accountability means that those who break the law, lie to Congress or deceive the American people are held accountable. The NSA has gone rogue, and while it’s probably not possible to prosecute people for what they did under the enormous veil of secrecy it currently enjoys, we need to make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated in the future. Accountability also means voting, which means voters need to know what our leaders are doing in our name.


  34. These teams, whose members wear body armour and are equipped with military-style weapons, were originally intended to tackle only the most dangerous criminals, such as murderers or hostage-takers. Now they are most commonly used to serve search warrants in drug-related cases. The police raided Mr Mallory’s home, for example, because they thought they would find a methamphetamine factory there. Instead they found two marijuana plants, belonging to a stepson who had a California medical-marijuana licence.

  35. Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more than the number of Brits killed by all of England and Wales’s 43 forces during the same period.


  36. Americans are afraid of many threats to their lives – serial killers, crazed gunmen, gang bangers, and above all terrorists – but these threats are surprisingly unlikely. Approximately three-quarters of all homicide victims in America are killed by someone they know. And the real threat from strangers is quite different from what most fear: one-third of all Americans killed by strangers are killed by police.


  37. But that’s not the Trump we have. The Trump we have understands that millions of white Americans, including much of his voting base, are profoundly alienated by black protest movements against abusive police. The numbers tell the story. Supermajorities of whites see police as essentially above reproach. Seventy-five percent say they “use the right amount of force for each situation” and believe they “treat racial and ethnic groups equally.” Seventy percent believe police are held accountable for misconduct, and 81 percent say they have either “some” or “a lot” of confidence in their local police departments. In terms of Trump’s supporters, 59 percent of white Republicans believe “too much attention” is paid to race. Perhaps the most revealing number is this one: Just 14 percent of white Americans “strongly support” Black Lives Matter (26 percent support it “somewhat”). If public opinion is any indication, most white Americans simply don’t see the problem. What they do worry about is crime. And Trump is using that fear to undermine the drive to reform law enforcement, and he’s doing it by tying protest to disorder and evoking a highly racialized vision of the violent, crime-ridden “inner city.”


  38. The Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust program enables law enforcement officers to examine the role their profession played in the Holocaust and challenges them to reflect upon their professional and personal responsibilities in a democracy today.

    The Museum’s programs and resources for military personnel encourage reflection and discussion on leadership, decision making, and genocide prevention. Through examination of the Holocaust and in particular the German military, military members gain fresh insight into their own professional and individual responsibilities and explore ways in which they can work to prevent mass atrocities today.

  39. Cops chase innocent shoplifting suspect into stranger’s house, then storm it with 50-person SWAT team and blow up every room except one

    Leo Lech is suing the police in Greenwood, Colorado for storming his house with a 50-person SWAT team because they mistakenly believed that a man who ran into his house (whom Lech didn’t know) had shoplifted a shirt and two belts from Walmart; the police engaged in a 19-hour standoff that led to the near-total destruction of Lech’s house due to the use of “calculated destruction,” a tactic through which explosives are detonated through the house, room by room, to isolate the suspect.

  40. Citizen Lab, CIPPIC analysis of the CSE Act

    You can read a brief introduction to the report here. The full document is here.

    News coverage:

    Alex Boutilier, “Canada’s electronic spies will be able to launch cyber attacks with little oversight, report warns,” Toronto Star, 18 December 2017

    Jim Bronskill, “‘Case not made’ for Liberal bill’s problematic cyberspy powers, researchers say,” Canadian Press, 18 December 2017

    Chris Arsenault, “Canada’s spies are on the verge of new offensive powers for cyber attacks,” Vice News, 18 December 2017

  41. Some police forces have taken it upon themselves to improve community relations. Many police chiefs—and even more unusually, police unions, which tend not to criticise rank-and-file officers—condemned Mr Chauvin’s actions. In Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey, senior officers even joined the marchers. “Before Saturday,” when Camden’s march took place, said Joseph Wysocki, the city’s police chief, “I had never done the peace sign ever.” Now, he says, officers and residents flash the sign to each other.

    Camden, a city of around 74,000 people just across the Delaware river from Pennsylvania, took an unusual approach to police reform. For years it was among America’s most violent cities, with the country’s fifth-highest murder rate in 2012, when 67 people were killed. The next year it disbanded its 141-year-old police department and reconstituted it as a county-wide force, hiring back most of the officers it had laid off, at lower salaries and with fewer benefits. But the new force expanded—it has over 400 officers, compared with 175 in 2011—and stressed community relations and training, particularly in how to calm a volatile situation without using force.

    In some places de-escalation training, like implicit-bias training, has become a box to tick: take a one-day course, and suddenly an officer knows how to de-escalate, or overcome all implicit biases. But, Mr Wysocki stresses, “You constantly have to reinforce training.” His force has a detailed use-of-force policy to which officers are held. When an officer uses force, the watch commander reviews bodycam footage of the incident, as does the internal-affairs department, which briefs Mr Wysocki. The officer and a senior officer then review the footage together.

  42. Federal Law Enforcement Use Unmarked Vehicles To Grab Protesters Off Portland Streets

    UPDATE (7:46 p.m. PT) — In the early hours of July 15, after a night spent protesting at the Multnomah County Justice Center and Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, Mark Pettibone and his friend Conner O’Shea decided to head home.

    It had been a calm night compared to most protesting downtown. By 2 a.m. law enforcement hadn’t used any tear gas and, with only a few exceptions, both the Portland Police Bureau and federal law enforcement officers had stayed out of sight.

  43. The Police Lie. All the Time. Can Anything Stop Them?

    This tendency to lie pervades all police work, not just high-profile violence, and it has the power to ruin lives. Law enforcement officers lie so frequently—in affidavits, on post-incident paperwork, on the witness stand—that officers have coined a word for it: testilying. Judges and juries generally trust police officers, especially in the absence of footage disproving their testimony. As courts reopen and convene juries, many of the same officers now confronting protesters in the street will get back on the stand.

    Defense attorneys around the country believe the practice is ubiquitous; while that belief might seem self-serving, it is borne out by footage captured on smartphones and surveillance cameras. Yet those best positioned to crack down on testilying, police chiefs and prosecutors, have done little or nothing to stop it in most of the country. Prosecutors rely on officer testimony, true or not, to secure convictions, and merely acknowledging the problem would require the government to admit that there is almost never real punishment for police perjury.

    Officers have a litany of incentives to lie, but there are two especially powerful motivators. First, most evidence obtained from an illegal search may not be used against the defendant at trial under the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule; thus, officers routinely provide false justifications for searching or arresting a civilian. Second, when police break the law, they can (in theory) suffer real consequences, including suspension, dismissal, and civil lawsuits. In many notorious testilying cases, including Parham’s, officers blame the victim for their own violent behavior in a bid to justify disproportionate use of force. And departments will reward officers whose arrests lead to convictions with promotions.

  44. The United States has an opportunity to change course. But doing so will require honestly accounting for the destruction that the current course has wrought. The United States will have to reckon with the scale of the disaster it has helped inflict on the world—and on itself—through three presidencies. To that end, the next administration should undertake a comprehensive review, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission or the 2006 Iraq Study Group, to explore the consequences of U.S. antiterrorism policy since 9/11: surveillance, detention, torture, extrajudicial killing, the use of manned and unmanned airstrikes, and partnerships with repressive regimes. The review should include perspectives outside of the usual national security circles, such as those of nongovernmental and grassroots advocacy organizations, minority communities that have experienced the most severe domestic effects of U.S. antiterrorism policies, and civilians in countries where the United States has waged war.


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