'Just Keeping You Safe': The Cheka Checks In

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Recently by William Norman Grigg: ‘V’
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“What are you
doing here?” Paul asked the armed stranger who had materialized
outside his workplace.

“Just keeping
you safe,” replied the interloper, who had invaded the property
without invitation or explanation.

The visitor
was clad in what Paul described as a SWAT-style dark blue jumpsuit,
mirrored sunglasses, and a baseball cap. He had arrived in a white
SUV equipped with running lights and displaying police markings
advertising that it belonged to the Department of Homeland Security.

Paul (who asked
that his last name not be used) was the only employee who saw something
amiss as the Homeland Security officer busied himself peering into
windows and doorways and making notes on a clipboard. 

Understandably
annoyed by the functionary’s unwarranted intrusion and patronizing
reply to his question, Paul continued to demand an explanation.
The visitor persisted in his Oracle at Delphi routine, offering
cryptic, dismissive responses to Paul’s questions. 

Through sheer
tenacity Paul managed to obtain a business card identifying the
visitor as Mark Cerchione. His title is — take a deep breath — Inspector
for Region
10
of the East Command for the Department of Homeland Security’s
National
Protection and Programs Directorate
, Federal
Protective Service
. This vital human cog in the State’s apparatus
of public order has an office located at 550 West Fort Street, Room
370 in Boise. 

Roughly an
hour after Paul’s encounter with Mr. Cerchione, and about fifteen
minutes after Paul related it to me, I contacted Mr. Cerchione on
his cell phone.

“That’s very
interesting,” Mr. Cerchione replied when I identified myself as
a writer in Idaho who had been told that a Homeland Security official
had paid a visit to an appliance repair company in Boise. “I’m not
allowed to talk about specifics but I can refer you to the regional
office in Seattle. This was just a normal, routine procedure — nothing
special.”

“It hardly
seems ‘routine’ for the Department of Homeland Security to pay a
visit to a workplace,” I commented.

“Look, this
was just a normal part of my day,” insisted Cerchione. “Asking me
about this is like asking a Boise City police officer why he looked
in on a construction site.”

“But you’re
not a Boise police officer — you’re a Fed,” I pointed out,
leaving aside the fact that a similar unannounced visit from a local
cop could likewise be cause for concern. “That makes this newsworthy.”

“Well, I can’t
comment about this, but I’d be happy to put you in touch with the
office in Seattle,” he repeated, promising to do so in exchange
for my contact information. 

From what I’ve
been able to learn,* Mr.
Cerchione
is an Idaho native who served briefly in the Army
as a military police officer before being employed by the Idaho
Falls Police Department. He also worked as a security guard at the
Idaho
National Laboratory
in Arco.

Cerchione’s
most recent position prior to signing on with the DHS appears to
have been with Securitas, a
private insurance company that in 1999 acquired the Pinkerton Agency

(which rose
to prominence as Abraham Lincoln’s wartime secret service
).

On the basis
of our brief phone conversation, Mr. Cerchione strikes me as affable
and quite professional — exactly the kind of decent, competent person
upon which every secret police bureaucracy relies.  

Think of it
for a second: What kind of government refers to its subdivisions
as “Directorates”? That designation is as alien to the American
political vocabulary as — well, the expression “Homeland Security”
itself. The term “Directorate” makes a much better fit for the components
of the Soviet secret police, whether known as the Cheka, KGB, or
FSB. 

The subdivision
of the American Cheka that employs Mr. Cerchione is the DHS’s equivalent
of the KGB’s
Ninth Chief Directorate
, which supplied bodyguards for the CPSU’s
ruling elite and maintained security at significant government installations.
In fact, the
current version of that Directorate under the FSB (the re-named
KGB)
has exactly the same title as its American counterpart:
Federalnaya Sluzhba Okhrany, which in English is generally
rendered “Federal Protective Service.”

The workplace
visited by Mr. Cerchione is located next to the offices of the Natural
Resource Conservation Service, an outpost serving various federal
regulatory agencies. It’s impossible to believe that Boise plays
host to a Jihadist sleeper cell that covets an opportunity to attack
the Natural Resources complex. It is marginally more believable
that the bureaucracy stationed therein could provoke the hostility
of some over-taxed, over-regulated productive citizen. 

What this means,
in any case, is that Mr. Cerchione — who, remember, is employed
by a Directorate tasked with protecting federal personnel and buildings
— wasn’t there to keep Paul and his fellow members of the productive
class “safe”; he was there to surveil them as potential threats
to the safety of the tax-consuming class. And this is part of his
“normal,” everyday routine in the service of the Homeland Security
Cheka, which presides over a vast and metastasizing surveillance
state.

“If you see
something — say something,” commands
Commissarina Napolitano
from Wal-Mart
telescreens
across the Rodina.
Citizen Concepts,
one of the ever-expanding school of corporate remoras
battening onto the Homeland Security leviathan, has introduced a
so-called “Patriot App” for the iPhone that will simplify things
for informants by permitting them to interface directly with the
hive mind. (Among its corporate
“goals,”
Citizen Concepts lists “decreasing variance in human
behavior to mitigate risk and error” — or, rendered into intelligible
language, eliminating non-conformity as a threat to the public interest). 

Did some vigilant
citizen detect dangerous levels of non-conformity on the part of
someone in Paul’s workplace, and do his duty to the Collective by
summoning the Federal Protective Service? We don’t know, and those
who do know refuse to let us in on this critical state secret. But
this is exactly what happened to Boise resident Dwight Scarbrough
four years ago. 

Mr. Scarbrough,
a scientist employed by the U.S. Forest Service, is a retired Navy
veteran and outspoken peace activist. During the early years of
the Iraq war, Scarbrough made himself commendably conspicuous by
adorning his pickup truck with signs and stickers demanding an end
to that atrocity and the prosecution of the criminals responsible
for it. 

By expressing
sentiments of that kind as emphatically as possible, Scarbrough
provoked criticism from some fellow employees. Complaints about
Scarbrough’s protest stickers led to an admonition from his supervisor
that he bowdlerize one bumper sticker seen by some as borderline
obscene (the strip contained the inventive neologism “BUSHIT”).
Since he wasn’t interested in giving needless offense, Scarbrough
did as his supervisor recommended. But his gesture apparently didn’t
placate Scarbrough’s co-worker, who remained aggrieved by the peace
activist’s unabashed displays of non-conformity.

On February
7, 2006, Scarbrough
received a phone call at work from a man identifying himself as
an officer with the Department of Homeland Security
. The officer
informed Scarbrough that he was in violation of the Code of Federal
Regulations, and risked receiving a citation unless he met the officer
in the parking lot of the federal building where he worked. 

“I grabbed
a friend to be a witness, and took along my tape recorder,” Scarbrough
recounted to Pro Libertate. “When we got down there, there
were two officers, both of them large, armed young men. One of them
made a point of separating my friend from me, as if the two of us
— guys in our 50s — constituted some kind of threat. He kept my
friend twenty feet away from me, holding his arms out as if performing
some kind of crowd control out of fear that we would overpower them.”

“Officer R.,”
the agent who had called Scarbrough, “was a very large guy. I’m
a sizeable fellow myself, but he dwarfed me; he was probably close
to 6’5″ and had to weigh something on the far side of 300 pounds.”
The agents “were in uniform — military-style blouses with shoulder
boards, badges with Homeland Security insignia, and sidearms.”

Since it seemed
as if the two Chekists were primed for a confrontation, Scarbrough
— who recorded and transcribed the entire encounter — made a point
of sitting down at a table “so there was no way I could be a threat,”
he explained to me.

As the transcript
documents, this gesture of de-escalation provoked immediate disapproval
from Officer R., since it meant that he no longer had the initiative:

Officer
R
: Step back here, please.

Scarbrough:
Let’s have a seat.

Officer
R
: I’d like to talk to you.

Scarbrough:
Let’s have a seat.

Officer
R
: Sir, come over here please.

Scarbrough:
I don’t want to come over there. I want to sit down. 

Apparently
thinking it wasn’t worthwhile to press the point, Officer R. told
Scarbrough that he was in violation of a provision of the Code of
Federal Regulations dealing with “posting or affixing signs, pamphlets,
handbills, or flyers on federal property.” Scarbrough had done nothing
of the sort; the materials described by Officer R. were affixed
to Scarbrough’s privately owned vehicle, which was in the parking
lot of the federal facility where he worked.

For a minute
or two, Scarbrough — who had already discussed matters of this kind
in detail with his supervisor — tried to reason with the obstinate,
concrete-headed Chekist, to no avail.

“I’ve just
given you an order and told you to remove those signs from the property,”
he growled. 

Following several
additional minutes of fruitless dispute, Scarbrough relented, moving
his car into a privately owned parking lot next door. This act of
armed bullying was also an exercise in content-based political censorship.
No similar threats were ever made against any of the dozens of people
— including employees — who parked in the same lot with bumper stickers
expressing support for the Bush administration, the Iraq war, and
opinions on other contentious political subjects.

Scarbrough
took his story to the press, and his case to the ACLU. Public exposure
of the incident caused the valiant defenders of the sacred Homeland
to take refuge behind locked doors. 

 When
a reporter for the
independent Boise Weekly, which broke the story
, tried
to speak with someone at the Boise office of Homeland Security,
“a woman emerged from a nearby cubicle and spoke to me through a
tennis-ball-sized hole in the window. She would not confirm the
name or identity of the officers, nor their badge numbers….” 

The reporter
for the Weekly contacted an official of the U.S. Marshals
Service, who confirmed the essentials of Scarbrough’s story — and
then “referred me to the Department of Homeland Security’s media
spokesman in Texas” for any further details about an incident that
had occurred thousands of miles away. This makes a certain kind
of sense, once one understands how matters of this kind are handled
in a Soviet-style centralized bureaucracy.

After going
public, Scarbrough resumed parking in his accustomed space. Eventually
the matter was dropped entirely. In retrospect, Scarbrough told
Pro Libertate, “I should have taken the citation and challenged
it in court. The attorney at the ACLU told me that ‘this is the
kind of stuff we live for,’ but the
matter was moot
because no citation was ever issued.”

Scarbrough
points out that his experience with Homeland Security came at a
time “when the department was young and it was flexing its muscles
all over the place. There were several incidents at about the same
time involving people who were arrested, cited, or harassed for
peaceful acts of public dissent, most of them involving opposition
to the war.” (Those incidents, and many others like them, are documented
in You
Have No Rights
, an infuriating and indispensable book by
Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive magazine.) 

Four years
ago, Scarbrough’s experience struck those who learned of it as an
anomaly, a bizarre instance of overkill. Paul’s encounter with his
friendly neighborhood Chekist illustrates that invasive and intimidating
federal surveillance has become — to use Mr. Cerchione’s expression
— a “normal, routine procedure” for those of us sentenced to live
in the contemporary Homeland Security State. 

*I sent Mr.
Cerchione an e-mail seeking confirmation of his biographical information;
a day later, I had received no reply.

December
20, 2010

William
Norman Grigg [send him mail]
publishes the Pro
Libertate
blog and hosts the Pro
Libertate radio program
.

The
Best of William Norman Grigg

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