[ RadSafe ] Watch out, you're being watched
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
"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,"
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
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
"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
"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
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
Clayton J. Bradt
dutchbradt at hughes.net
More information about the RadSafe