the Unending Journey of the Wandering Author

A chronicle of the unending journey of the Wandering Author through life, with notes and observations made along the way. My readers should be aware I will not censor comments that disagree with me, but I do refuse to display comment spam or pointless, obscene rants. Humans may contact me at thewanderingauthor at yahoo dot com - I'll reply as I am able.

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Location: New England, United States

I have always known I was meant to write, even when I was too young to know the word 'author'. When I learned that books were printed, I developed an interest in that as well. And I have always been a wanderer, at least in my mind. It's not the worst trait in an author. For more, read my writing; every author illuminates their heart and soul on the pages they write upon.

Friday, September 01, 2006

USDA Employee Threatens US Food Supply - Silence Follows

On Tuesday, NoNAIS.org, a web site opposed to the USDA's proposed National Animal Identification System, received a terrorist threat. A comment (#21) left in response to a post announcing Vermont's rejection of a crucial part of this program read "Thanks Vermont, for opening an avenue for those that wish to use animal diseases as a bio-eco-terrorism tool. We would have tried to start along the SW border but that’s now just to [sic] obvious. Thanks! We’ll take the NE corner and work our way in that way. -ABET".

The owner of the site, Walter Jackson, was understandably concerned. His site logs the IP address of commenters, so he did a WhoIs lookup on 168.68.129.127, the source of this comment. He was able to identify this IP address as one registered to the USDA Office of Operations! When he learned this, he contacted the USDA. Instead of referring the matter to the FBI, they opted to handle it internally. He also notified his readers of the situation in a new post.

Various concerned readers attempted to alert the media about this issue, but so far it has received no mention in the news. Since it is difficult to imagine multiple media outlets failing to look into such a story, it appears the USDA has successfully convinced the media the issue is not a serious one. It is, of course, not unusual for a government agency to seek to downplay such news, especially when they are in the midst of attempting to quietly implement a controversial new program with minimal fuss.

How seriously should this threat be taken? Certainly, in the past, firefighters have actually set fires in reaction to cutbacks in personnel or budgets. In the early 1980s, after the adoption of Proposition 2 1/2 in Massachusetts forced cities and towns to trim their budgets, arsonists set a string of fires in the Boston area to 'prove' the need for more funding. So it is not unheard of for disgruntled public servants to threaten and to actually harm the public if policy decisions go against their wishes.

In the past, food and medicine on supermarket shelves has been poisoned or contaminated. There is no reason to suppose farm animals could not be infected by someone whose job it is to ensure their health. Past experience, then, suggests such a threat must be taken seriously. Yes, it is possible whoever posted that threat, bitter over a setback to a program the USDA has invested significant time and money in promoting, was simply venting a bit of spite and seeking to 'make a point'.

That doesn't mean we should bet the lives of the public on that possibility. Such a crime needs to be thoroughly investigated. Consider; somewhere out there is a government employee so blind to consequences, so incapable of controlling their actions, that they posted this threat. Whenever a high school student calls in a bomb threat to his school, he is caught and prosecuted. Any government employee, committing a similar offence by threatening the very sector they are supposed to protect must expect the same or worse.

Yet someone veered so far out of control they ignored that possibility and issued a threat that by its nature cannot be ignored. Were they expecting the USDA to protect one of their own? In light of the zeal the USDA has shown in pressing forward with this program despite significant objections from many of the farmers they are supposed to serve, did the prevailing attitude among their colleagues subtly encourage this kind of behaviour? We cannot know without a thorough, outside investigation into the matter.

There is some reason to suspect the USDA's official attitude towards those who call for a reconsideration of this program is dangerously extreme. In the aftermath of this threat, Walter Jackson and others have learned, by searching the logs of visitors to their web sites, that the USDA has apparently been monitoring their sites for some time, and leaving comments under presumably false pretences in at least one other case. (Scroll down to the third update to this post.)

When news broke that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were monitoring private communications in an effort to combat terrorism, many citizens were shocked and horrified. So what are we to think when we discover the USDA is monitoring 'dissidents'? 'Intelligence gathering' by a government department for no purpose other than harassing, hindering, and outmaneuvering those who object to their proposed policies is the sort of heavy handed interference we might expect in North Korea, but here in "the land of the free"?

We know employees at the USDA are so driven to push NAIS forward that at least one of them has already resorted to a foolish, illegal act out of pique at a setback to that program. We have learned that they are so obsessed with overcoming opposition to the program that they are spending a significant amount of time lurking on web sites maintained by those who oppose them. What other details would be revealed in the light of a full-scale, thorough, public investigation conducted by some outside agency?

Since the USDA decided to handle this investigation internally, we cannot know the answer. We cannot be sure colleagues who share the would-be terrorist's outrage at 'interference' with their cherished program will not fumble the investigation, or worse. We certainly cannot be confident other USDA employees, suffering from an excess of misplaced zeal and on the verge of dangerous actions of their own in this heated atmosphere, will be identified and dealt with appropriately.

Yes, these are speculations, but they are based upon the facts we do know. Had the USDA immediately called a press conference on the 29th of August to announce the existence of this threat and the involvement of the FBI, there would be little reason to worry now. But their silence is worrisome. Public statements in response to rising publicity will no longer be reassuring; only those who don't need to be forced into the open are likely to prove trustworthy. Those who come forward only to avoid even more exposure are still doing the best they can to hide the truth.

There are those who would harm the United States; we have seen what they are capable of. But we must remember that some of the worst decisons in history have been made by men sure they were acting "for the good of society". Such beliefs urge well-intentioned individuals forward, secure in the knowledge they are only doing what they 'must' to ensure the only 'reasonable' outcome. I'm sure most employees who work at the USDA would never go this far. Yet they may not understand what some of their colleagues are capable of, and may aid and support them without understanding what it is they intend.

We must keep in mind it is the USDA which monitors our food and ensures its safety. Who would be better placed to introduce disease into our farm animals? Even if only one or two actually do this, the results would be horrendous. And the threat has already been made. We can choose to heed that warning, or we can turn a deaf ear and wait to see what happens. If we fail to investigate, we will never know if an outbreak of disease is natural or not. Those who work with animal diseases are in an ideal position to arrange matters so the results of their actions appear natural.

The only way to ensure we ever learn the truth is to act now. The media must cover this story, and its followup, aggressively. The FBI must investigate the criminal act that has already occurred. They must explore the possibility others were involved. And Congress must investigate the USDA as an organisation, and the policies they are trying so hard to keep us from discussing. Our legislators must examine the direction the USDA has taken, consider the objections to their proposals, and hold hearings to discover whether the atmosphere within the department has encouraged these problems.

These events have shown real flaws exist within the USDA. They throw into question the USDA's leadership, administration, and policies. Only an exhaustive Congressional investigation can reassure the public that our food supply is safe in the hands of such a flawed agency. If those committed to adopting NAIS were so obsessed with ensuring its success, we must assume they made light of real problems. We need to listen to the small farmers, whose lives are most affected. We must reexamine the proposal, and either radically alter it or abandon it altogether. After all, its advocates feared free and open discussion of its merits and drawbacks.

To those who object that this is almost entirely based on speculation, you are right! That is all we have to go on since the USDA elected to avoid a public investigation. It would be far better to displace these speculations with facts. The best way to do that is to promote a thorough investigation on all levels. No other actions should be taken until all the facts are known, and all the issues openly discussed.

It is those who resist open discussion who limit our knowledge and fuel our fears. If our speculations are unfounded, refute them with the results of an exhaustive investigation by Congress and the FBI. It is those who want to act before public discussion runs its course who have stooped to the level of making terrorist threats. Responding by speculating about their possible actions and motives hardly seems unjustified.

diigo it

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