It was the girl with the dark hair. For a few seconds Winston was too paralyzed to move. Whether she was really an agent of the Thought Police, or simply an amateur spy actuated by officiousness, hardly mattered. It was enough that she was watching him.”
George Orwell, 1984
With just days to go and a congressional recess looming, lawmakers are scrambling to find a legislative solution to re-up government surveillance and intelligence-gathering powers that are expiring at the end of the month.
With national security shaping up to be a major issue this election cycle, both sides are under intense pressure to reauthorize three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Already Senate Democratic leaders are moving toward including a one-year extension on the provisions in their jobs bill, which was expected to be introduced this week.
No one doubts that the world changed for the worse since 9/11. One way has been our own government’s suspicion and surveillance of the very people that elected it.
Of course Washington has been telling us for a decade that it has no choice, that it must spy on us for our own good. It is all part of the War on Terror.
It is worth noting that our government began spying on us in earnest a generation earlier. That time it was because of the War on Drugs.
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It was a hot July day in 1990 and I needed a cold drink. The offices to the Myers’ newsletter were on the second floor the Old National Bank Building at the North Division Y on Division Street in Spokane, Wash. One of the perks of paying hefty rent in the new building was that the bank let us use their lunch room replete with cola and snack machines.
Moments after my quarters had plunked into the machine I had a cold can of Coca-Cola in my hands. On the way out of the lunch room I noticed a giant poster on the wall from the Department of the Treasury (see chart below).
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As you can see its pretense is to catch criminals involved in “narcotics trafficking.” See the mention on the bottom? It offers “substantial rewards for information leading to the seizure of currency and/or the arrest and conviction of individuals violating United States currency laws.”
In other words, beware of the kindly bank teller if you deal in cash for whatever reason. He or she has openly been bribed to spy for the Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Department (IRS) and U.S. Customs to boot.
You can see that more than a decade before 9/11 our government was busying itself in spying on its citizens. And the biggest attack on our liberty isn’t on what kind of gun we can own, where we can smoke, or even what we search out on the Internet. It is the slow and insidious control of our currency. How much money we have, where we have it and how we move it has become a preoccupation of the Federal Government.
There was a time when there were $1,000 bills. That is no longer. A rapidly devaluing hundred dollar bill is the biggest unit of currency today (in 2010 a $100 bill has the purchasing power of a 1975 $20 bill).
Twenty five years ago you could buy and own U.S. Treasury bearer bonds. Unregistered, they avoided scores of red tape—they could be bought and sold literally overnight; or if necessary, kept in safe keeping away from prying eyes. They too are extinct.
There was a time when you could move money in and out of the country, no questions asked. You can’t do that anymore. For years anything over $10,000 going across the border must be reported.
Uncle Sam wants to know any transaction over $10,000. That law doesn’t just apply to banks or border agents. If you go into your Ford dealer tomorrow and plunk down $12,000 cash, it will be reported to the Feds. Not only that, but if you spend more than $10,000 cash at a car dealership within a year (bought two cars on two different occasions for $6,000 each), the dealer is responsible to report the total of both transactions. In effect, private business has been conscripted by the Federal Government to report on its customers. And the Federal Government’s heavy hand reaches beyond U.S. borders.
In the late 1990s I was driving from my home in Spokane to Calgary, Canada. At that time it was illegal to transport more than $10,000 currency out of the United States, but Canada had no such laws (that would come a few years later, no doubt under pressure from Washington). At the Kings Gate border in British Columbia the Canadian Customs Agent asked if I was carrying more than $10,000 cash.
“What do you care?” I asked.
This did not sit well with the young lady charged with protecting Canada.
“Are you going to tell me… or are we going to have to strip your car and your person?”
“The answer is no, but what I want to know is why are you asking me this? It is not against Canadian law for me to bring in any amount of currency, is it?”
“No,” she said, “it is not. But it is against U.S. law!”
To underscore what she was saying she pointed 75 yards to the U.S. Customs office welcoming southbound traffic.
“So what you are telling me is that you are not only a Canadian customs agent, but you are also acting at the behest of the United States government?”
I realized I was walking a razor thin line and in jeopardy of having my car torn apart. Fortunately she handed me my drivers license (the days before you had to have a passport) and without a word she motioned me to continue on my trip.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote to you about the War on Gold. What I have learned in the last few years is that our government is conducting a War on Cash. Washington despises cash because it is an instrument we can use to exercise our liberties without being monitored. Yet for non-criminals like you and me it is a disappearing tool. Fewer and fewer of us do business with currency any longer, leaving whatever commerce we have easily tracked and traced.
Yet just as criminals continue to have ready access to guns, they too have mountains of cash. There is almost $900 billion in circulation, four times the amount there was in 1990. Meanwhile there are only 300 million Americans. If the drug cartels and terrorists weren’t holding buckets of cash, every man, woman and child would have $3,000 stuffed in their pockets or mattresses. Even if you account for what the banks have on hand (which is surprisingly little), that is a ludicrous number.
Law abiding Americans are without the utility of cash and the inherent privacy it allows when conducting commerce. Yet the drug dealers and terrorists have stacks and stacks of currency on hand.
Today our government is able to track almost all of our transactions in this increasingly cashless and restricted society. Never mind the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. It seems to me that the real war is being conducted on the American people.