[ RadSafe ] Watch out, you're being watched

Clayton Bradt dutchbradt at hughes.net
Mon Mar 24 19:06:25 CDT 2008

Watch out, you're being watched

By Danny Westneat

Seattle Times staff columnist

The unsettling thing about living in a 
surveillance society isn't just that
you're being watched. It's that you 
have no idea.

That's what struck me about a story 
told last week by a border agent at a
meeting of 200 San Juan Islanders. He 
was there to explain why the federal
government is doing citizenship checks 
on domestic ferry runs.But near the
end, while trying to convince the 
skeptical audience that the point is to
root out terrorists, not fish for 
wrongdoing among the citizenry, deputy
chief Joe Giuliano let loose with a 
tale straight out of "Dr. Strangelove."

It turns out the feds have been 
monitoring Interstate 5 for nuclear 
bombs." They do it with radiation 
detectors so sensitive it led to the
following incident.

"Vehicle goes by at 70 miles per 
hour," Giuliano told the crowd. "Agent 
in the median, a good 80 feet away 
from the traffic. Signal went off and
identified an isotope [in the passing 

The agent raced after the car, pulling 
it over not far from the monitoring
spot (near the Bow-Edison exit, 18 
miles south of Bellingham). The agent
questioned the driver, then did a 
cursory search of the car, Giuliano 

Did he find a nuke?

"Turned out to be a cat with cancer 
that had undergone a radiological
treatment three days earlier," 
Giuliano said.

He added: "That's the type of 
technology we have that's going on in 
background. You don't see it. If I 
hadn't told you about it, you'd never
know it was there."

About all I can say is: Wow. Wow that 
the government now has the ability to
detect radiation in a cat inside a car 
going by at 70 miles per hour. And
wow at this world we live in, where we 
feel compelled to sniff, at random,
inside the traffic coming out of 

What else is the government watching? 
Is it all too much?

We're watching lots, said Giuliano 
when I called him. Giuliano is No. 2 in
the border patrol's Blaine sector. He 
is refreshingly open about the surge
of post-Sept. 11 surveillance, and its 
pros and cons.

>From bomb sniffing to bank monitoring 
of the kind that brought down Eliot
Spitzer to phone and Internet data 
crunching to citizenship checkpoints —
all are becoming commonplaces of 
American life.

Giuliano says the point really is to 
catch terrorists. He says it's true
that the odds of catching one here may 
be "a billion to one. But despite
that, we have caught two." (Gazi 
Ibrahim Abu Mezer, who tried to sneak 
at Blaine in 1997 to blow up the New 
York subway; and Millennium Bomber
Ahmed Ressam, nabbed at Port Angeles 
in 1999.)

"There's your one or two in a billion, 
looking right at you."

It's a good point. Yet even he, a 
federal agent for 35 years, is queasy
about the snooping's reach. He said he 
opposes parts of the Patriot Act,
namely the section that expands 
warrantless searches.

"I think we can do this without 
tossing out our checks and balances," 

The debate has the San Juans abuzz. 
While we're doing citizenship checks,
why not also do it in Seattle? Is it 
constitutional? Does the story of the
radioactive cat reassure you? Or creep 
you out?

Said San Juan County Councilman Kevin 
Ranker: "I think it's fair to say
many people up here have been left 
wondering just what kind of country it
is they're living in."

Danny Westneat's column appears 
Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at
206-464-2086 or dwestneat at seattletimes.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times 


Think about it: what probable cause 
did the border patrol use to pull over
this passing motorist and search 
his/her car?  It is not illegal to be

On the other hand, anyone stupid 
enough to pay for I-131 treatment for
their cat  should probably be 
monitored closely.

Clayton J. Bradt
dutchbradt at hughes.net

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