Letter to the editor: DHS Screening
THE FRONT page of the Friday, Nov. 3, 2006 Watertown Daily Times had a headline: Feds intend to screen all people entering, leaving at borders. The article outlines the intent of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as published in Thursdays Federal Register, to screen all people who enter of leave the country by automobile or on foot and assign each a risk assessment profile (RAP) . which will be kept on file for 40 years. This is under a program called Automated Targeting System (ATS) which is used at present to screen cargo. Apparently a bar code will be given each person as part of his or her passport (Remember in short period of time we will need a passport to come home from anywhere including Canada or Mexico) and that persons risk level, from lowest (0) to highest (10) can quickly be ascertained.
That article brought back memories of my 1983 trip on the Siberian express from Beijing to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My wife, my daughter Natalie and I had been teaching in a Chinese University for a year and were returning by train to Amsterdam where we would catch a flight to the US.
We left Beijing on June 23rd and arrived the next night at the Mongolian border. Before crossing, Chinese soldiers came to each compartment and checked under the beds for people who might be trying to escape. Very bright mobile lights were moved in unison from the front to the back of the train to inspect each car to assure there were no people hidden underneath.
When we crossed into Mongolia an hour later, all lights in the train went off and the train came to a stop in total darkness. Suddenly the outside of the train was flooded in lights from overhead lamps as powerful as any I have seen in major baseball stadiums. On each side of each car several jackbooted guards stood at attention. Several of the guards had vicious looking dogs on the end of steel chains. The lights in the compartments were still off.
There was a hard pound on the door as it was thrust open. Powerful flashlights shown in our faces and the guards looked in our closet and under the beds then held out their hands for our passports. They then closed the door and left. Later the compartment lights came on, and the same guards returned with screwdrivers to remove the overhead and outside panels in the compartment to search for contraband. They then went through our luggage, found a Time magazine, said something to us in a gruff voice, and confiscated the magazine.
For the next couple of days, with two long stops, we proceeded slowly to the Russian (Siberian) border. Before we exited this border, jackbooted Mongolian guards again lined both sides of the trains and carried out the identical search procedure, including removing the panels in the compartment, as we had undergone on entering Mongolia.
We went through Russia, Poland, East Germany with both entry and exit inspections. While the inspections in those countries were not as ominous as in Mongolia, nevertheless, they all were designed to intimidate and make you feel as though you certainly must have broken the law or were helping someone trying to escape.
Trying to escape? Remember when we thought the Communists were oppressive when they kept people from escaping? Now the United States publishes that US citizens are going to have to show ID to leave the country while only a few newspapers, the ACLU and a few others seem to notice.
We reached West Germany where there was a quick check of passports and no inspections under the cars or under the beds. We left West Germany and there was no exit inspection and realized how wonderful it was to be in a free country. We entered the Netherlands and they never even came to our compartment for a passport inspection. Truly a feeling of freedom.
The Automated Targeting System in comparison to the crude methods of the Chinese, Mongolians, Russians, Poles and East Germans, shows that the United States can really lead the way in any endeavor it undertakes. In light of all the new methods of tracking and spying on people, one realizes how much Orwell never envisioned when he wrote 1984.
I wonder who decides what goes into the risk rating or how innocent one will have to be to get a perfect score of zero on the Risk Assessment Profile?" Will a child get a zero even if one of his or her parents belongs to the ACLU? Will Democrats automatically score higher than Republicans? Will I get extra points for this article? Will this RAP be used like the color code? Will we hear on the radio something like Today, nobody with an RAP greater than 6 will be allowed to enter or leave the country?"
Slowly, slowly the meaning of the word freedom is changing. A word or a phrase at a time and we succumb to the changes. We think this is as far as this administration will go. Then there is the next incremental change. At what point is it too late to turn back?
James I. Monroe