10.27.11

Lethal non-lethals, the potential to turn private sector homeland security loose on OWS, and other matters

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Decline and Fall, War On Terror at 12:08 pm by George Smith

The last decade, as well spawning many bad big things, gave birth to entire industries devoted to making bad, if only in ways a magnitude smaller or so than economic collapse.

Chief among these was the private-sectoring of homeland security. Across the country, small shops set up everywhere to sell security and intelligence contracting to state and city governments.

The businesses, often called terrorism research businesses and intelligence fusion centers, are probably already taking a bead on Occupy Wall Street and selling themselves to authorities only too willing to take advantage of such services. All in the name of the grand phrase, public safety.

Last year I wrote about one such company briefly, uncovered by the local newsmedia in Pennsylvania, when it began distributing terrorism reports naming various progressive groups, and the indie film-maker auteur responsible for Gasland (the expose on the natural gas “hydro-fracking” industry.)

Reprinting from it:

What to do if you’re in the business of counter-terrorism in, say, a place like Pennsylvania? And there just aren’t enough jihadists around to fill a decent report for the state government client. Answer: Reclassify democratic activity as trouble. Problem solved!

From my old homestate of Pennsylvania, this bit of unintentional dark humor, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Information about an anti-BP candlelight vigil, a gay and lesbian festival and other peaceful gatherings became the subject of anti-terrorism bulletins being distributed by Pennsylvania’s homeland security office, an apologetic Gov. Ed Rendell admitted.

Also in the anti-terrorism bulletin: “[Events] likely to be attended by environmentalists …”

And who was getting the funding for this valuable intelligence on the state of homegrown terrorism?

Something called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, in Philadelphia, to the tune of $125,000 …


On page 11 of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response’s sample May 2009 anti-terrorism briefing, the organization lumps a number of equally surprising activities under the topic “Domestic/Eco-Terror Alerts.”

Among these, “the Rainforest Action Network is holding training at campuses across the [continental United States]. The training is designed to inspire ecological activity — from legitimate canvassing to illegal direct actions.”

The very legit Rainforest Action Network is here. It looks like a happy place.

In another posting, the company’s Terrorism Research bulletin, entitled “Actionable Intelligence Briefing,” reads: “Ecological activists in [San Francisco, Phoenix, Tuscon and Sonora} will be protesting the intent of Mexico to build a toxic waste dump on land belonging to the O’odham Indians.”

Other “domestic/eco-terror alert” entries include notes on protests of the Bank of America bailout scheduled for Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office, “a protest march … held by people opposed to the closing of some schools in New York City, “eco-activists” from Earth First! holding a summer training camp, institute analysts noting an appearance by Karl Rove as an opportunity for “anarchist groups,” as well as a variety of anti-war and anti-cruelty-to-animals protest events.

The anti-terrorism briefing booklet makes a practice of classifying people and groups who protest corporate activities as anarchists.

“Working with organizations that refuse to surrender their domestic or international operations to terrorism,” reads the pamphlet.

Terrorism, in this case, seeming to broadly rope in constitutionally protected activities contrary to the interests of corporate and government clients.

What would actually be surprising would be if companies like this, all fruit of the homeland security boom, weren’t already working OWS. Readers, and many Americans — generally, know there is certainly no shortage of people at the top of national government, as well as at the bottom of local townships, willing to immediately renew contracts to local goons promising to keep them appraised on people alleged to be causing civil unrest.

Invariably, all these businesses are spin-offs from the national security infrastructure, employing ex-law enforcement, military and intelligence
men only marginally interested in rights, due process of law and democracy. On a much smaller level, they follow the business practices of the big mercenary army/private security companies like Blackwater.

And they have exploded with taxpayer funding during the past decade.

It’s worth adding that private security has a long history of misuse in this country. The employment of the Pinkertons against the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s comes to mind.


Another small homeland security industry now of importance is the one devoted to “non-lethal” weaponry in the United States. Small and large businesses, as well as the big arms developers, got involved in peddling various new arms to the government and police forces, all using the argument that technological advances would allow for non-bloody crowd control.

The most public example was The Sheriff, a high-powered microwave gun mounted on a Hummer and developed by Raytheon. The Sheriff took over a decade of taxpayer investment and an incredible public relations effort to push it (one that failed spectacularly) as a revolutionary weapon which could be used to disperse crowds.

Publicly, it was a disaster. The Sheriff was taken to Afghanistan a year or so ago and quietly brought back without firing one microwave shot in anger. It was, and still is, simply viewed as a device for torturing people who can’t fight back.

At which point in time Raytheon began peddling a much smaller mounted version of it for use in the California prison system.

The essential point to be made is a simple one. All the arguments for the development and use of “non-lethal” weapons rely upon the success in getting people to believe there is some magic point of force application in which people are not irrevocably injured or killed.

In real life, this point is imaginary. It does not exist. And there is no scientific method that can be used to find or elucidate it. As any perusal of the literature on use of tasers, rubber bullets and tear gas quickly reveals.

However, the argument remains seductive particularly when governments or law enforcement need rationalizations for using force short of bullets on the unarmed.

What the “non-lethal” weapon does is set the bar downward for the use of force. When one equips a military or law enforcement agency with weapons which the average soldier or policeman believes will not hurt people because they have been told there is a science to them making them safe, the problem becomes obvious.

With the images of tear gas and people wounded in Oakland and other protests flashing around, you can bet there are at least pitches being made to sell use of more non-lethal weaponry. The only consolation is one of coincidence. Economic collapse has made it much harder for local government to buy the newer non-lethal weapons developed during the war on terror. The money is no longer there.

An example of the companies involved in this kind of thing was written about a couple of months ago here.

One motorized crowd control system, it generates loud screeching noise with the idea that ear pain makes people run away, was deployed in Pittsburgh where it has been mostly just a nuisance.

It came out of the idea that sound could be used to shatter the ear drums of “terrorists” on airplanes, without killing passengers.

If common sense is telling you that such a thing is fairly dubious, you’re not alone. However, that has never impeded the development of such things.

When still free-lancing for the Village Voice, I wrote a little about this.

Two examples from the war on terror, The Electrocuting Water Cannon and The Sonic Pain Stick are at the links.

From the Electrocuting Water Cannon:

[The company] certainly has expertise in this [non-lethal] area. It has manufactured something called the Sticky Shocker, a technological annoyance that looks like the giant cocklebur from hell. It’s designed to lodge on people with “tenacious glue” and barbs in order to dispense stunning volts.

Although the latest hazard to humanity hasn’t been tested on live subjects, Jaycor material claims it is voltage-regulated according to some Underwriters Laboratories standard of acceptable partial electrocution. One can only wonder at the way such a remarkable standard was arrived at—perhaps by dropping hair dryers or radios into bathtubs occupied by volunteers?

It is patently obvious that a vehicle-mounted shocking water hose is an atrocious mechanism that would instantly doom the career of anyone who ordered its use on American streets.

While this particular thing no longer appears to be around, the logic behind is still alive and well.

1 Comment

  1. joe said,

    December 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    i got some nonlethal weaponry right here, it’s called an ar15, and if i shoot you government goons in the leg, it’s nonlethal. bring on the party.