In many respects the Bush Administration has been a mild echo of the McCarthy era, though in some ways it has been far worse. Joseph McCarthy was a powerful individual, but he was still in the end just one senator, and President Eisenhower was a bastion of integrity and fidelity to traditional values. The Bush Administration is populated with many figures who are convinced that history has laid a bum rap on Joe McCarthy—that he was a wonderful, patriotic American, and that the country would benefit greatly from maintaining an Argus-eyed watch over the fifth-columnists who are attempting to penetrate its institutions. That would include everyone to the left of say, Rudy Giuliani. And Giuliani is suspect, too.
Walter Pincus reports today in the Washington Post on an effort that has a distinctly McCarthyite odor about it:
The Bush administration plans to screen thousands of people who work with charities and nonprofit organizations that receive U.S. Agency for International Development funds to ensure they are not connected with individuals or groups associated with terrorism, according to a recent Federal Register notice.
The plan would require the organizations to give the government detailed information about key personnel, including phone numbers, birth dates and e-mail addresses. But the government plans to shroud its use of that information in secrecy and does not intend to tell groups deemed unacceptable why they are rejected. The plan has aroused concern and debate among some of the larger U.S. charitable organizations and recipients of AID funding. Officials of InterAction, representing 165 foreign aid groups, said last week that the plan would impose undue burdens and has no statutory basis. The organization requested that it be withdrawn.
“We don’t know who will do the vetting, what the standards are and whether we could answer any allegation,” said an executive for a major nongovernmental organization that would be subject to the new requirements and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to harm his organization’s relations with the government.
Not we are not talking about individuals who are working for the Government. We are talking about people who work for private, largely charitable organizations. This marks a massive further expansion of the National Security State, giving it a powerful glance into the heart of the NGO community. It is precisely the sort of tactic which has been used by authoritarian and wannabe totalitarian states when they start to stomp out civil society—for instance in recent years in Uzbekistan and Russia. Yes, let’s build a massive data base on all the people who work for those pesky civil society organizations. Will put them out of work and then we’ll shut down the organizations themselves.
Based on the way similar screening programs operate, here’s my expectation: this will provoke a massive slowdown in the ability of the organizations to make hires. They will be told that certain individuals are “on hold” while security checks are undertaken. And who, precisely, will go on to this “hold” list? Based on the conduct of the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the last five years, I anticipate that racial and religious stereotyping will be used to identify those guilty of one of the most serious offenses known to the Bush National Security State: breathing while being of Middle Eastern or South Asian ancestry. That would be illegal, of course. But why would something small like the Constitution stand in the way of the Bush Administration? Of course, it never does. So if your name is “Omar,” “Ahmed,” “Aziz” or “Fatimah,” you can hang it up. Best to look for employment elsewhere. Better yet, think about immigration.
We can also expect that faith-based civil society organizations that sit firmly in the bosom of the G.O.P. will have no problems with compliance with this program, nor will their employees have any trouble getting clearances. And that in turn will make it increasingly easier for the Bush Administration to steer contracts to the faith-based community. Call it pay to play.
America’s security could be enhanced by building partnership and respect around the world, through outreach and inclusiveness. And there’s no area where that’s more badly needed than in the Middle East and the Muslim world. The Administration will argue that this is about security. In fact, it’s about making us much more hated and much less safe—the only project at which this Administration has surpassed all expectations.