Has Homeland Security become America’s standing army?

John W. Whitehead

John W. Whitehead

The Rutherford Institute

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 5:00 am


If the United States is a police state, then the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is its national police force, with all the brutality, ineptitude and corruption such a role implies. In fact, although the DHS’ governmental bureaucracy may at times appear to be inept and bungling, it is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to building what the founders feared most — a standing army on American soil.

The third-largest federal agency behind the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, the DHS — with its 240,000 full-time workers, $61 billion budget and sub-agencies that include the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — has been aptly dubbed a “runaway train.” With good reason, a bipartisan bill to provide greater oversight and accountability into the DHS’ purchasing process has been making its way through Congress.

A better plan would be to abolish the DHS altogether. The menace of a national police force, aka a standing army, vested with so much power cannot be overstated, nor can its danger be ignored. Indeed, as the following list shows, just about every nefarious deed, tactic or thuggish policy advanced by the government today can be traced back to the DHS, its police state mindset, and the billions of dollars it distributes to police agencies in the form of grants.


— Militarizing police and SWAT teams. The DHS routinely hands out six-figure grants to enable local municipalities to purchase military-style vehicles, as well as a veritable war chest of weaponry, ranging from tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, assault weapons and combat uniforms. This rise in military equipment purchases funded by the DHS has, according to analysts Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, “paralleled an apparent increase in local SWAT teams.”

— Spying on activists, dissidents and veterans. In 2009, DHS released three infamous reports on right-wing and left-wing “Extremism,” and another entitled Operation Vigilant Eagle, outlining a surveillance program targeting veterans. The reports collectively and broadly define extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.”

— Stockpiling ammunition. DHS, along with other government agencies, has been stockpiling an alarming amount of ammunition in recent years, which only adds to the discomfort of those already leery of the government. As of 2013, DHS had 260 million rounds of ammo in stock, which averages out to between 1,300 to 1,600 rounds per officer. The U.S. Army, in contrast, has roughly 350 rounds per soldier.

— Distributing license plate readers. DHS has already distributed more than $50 million in grants to enable local police agencies to acquire license plate readers, which rely on mobile cameras to photograph and identify cars, match them against a national database, and track their movements.


— Tracking cellphones with Stingray devices. Distributed to local police agencies as a result of grants from the DHS, these Stingray devices enable police to track individuals’ cellphones — and their owners — without a court warrant or court order.

— Carrying out military drills and lockdowns in American cities. Each year, DHS funds military-style training drills in cities across the country. These Urban Shield exercises, elaborately staged with their own set of professionally trained crisis actors playing the parts of shooters, bystanders and victims, fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers, bystanders and the media into thinking it’s a real crisis.

— Using the TSA as an advance guard. The TSA now searches a variety of government and private databases, including things like car registrations and employment information, in order to track travelers before they ever get near an airport.

— Carrying out soft target checkpoints. VIPR task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection K-9 teams, have laid the groundwork for the government’s effort to secure so-called “soft” targets such as malls, stadiums, bridges, etc.

— Conducting widespread spying networks using fusion centers. Data collecting agencies spread throughout the country, aided by the National Security Agency, fusions centers — of which there are at least 78 scattered around the U.S. — constantly monitor our communications, collecting and cataloguing everything from our Internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected: The CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police.


— Carrying out Constitution-free border control searches. On orders from the DHS, the government’s efforts along the border have become little more than an exercise in police state power, ranging from aggressive checkpoints to the widespread use of drone technology, often used against American citizens traveling within the country.

— Funding city-wide surveillance cameras. As Charlie Savage reports for the Boston Globe, the DHS has funneled “millions of dollars to local governments nationwide for purchasing high-tech video camera networks, accelerating the rise of a ‘surveillance society’ in which the sense of freedom that stems from being anonymous in public will be lost.”

— Utilizing drones and other spybots. The DHS has been at the forefront of funding and deploying surveillance robots and drones for land, sea and air, including robots that resemble fish and tunnel-bots that can travel underground.

It’s not difficult to see why the DHS has been described as a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast.” If it is a beast, however, it is a beast that is accelerating our nation’s transformation into a police state through its establishment of a standing army, aka national police force.

This, too, is nothing new. Historically, as I show in my book “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,” the establishment of a national police force has served as a fundamental and final building block for every totalitarian regime that has ever wreaked havoc on humanity, from Hitler’s all-too-real Nazi Germany to George Orwell’s fictional Oceania. Whether fictional or historical, however, the calling cards of these national police agencies remain the same: brutality, inhumanity, corruption, intolerance, rigidity and bureaucracy — in other words, evil.

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"Two hours of pure hell" as SWAT team trashes home


Kari Edwards said she and her boyfriend were forced to strip naked at gunpoint during a terrifying Department of Homeland Security dawn raid on their Florida home which lasted for two hours.

The incident began on June 10 at 6:16am when numerous armed SWAT team members, accompanied by a helicopter overhead, arrived in an armored vehicle at the couple’s address before smashing in the door and deafening their pet cat with flash bang smoke grenades.

“They busted in like I was a terrorist or something,” Edwards told the Tea Party News Network, adding, “[An officer] demanded that I drop the towel I was covering my naked body with before snatching it off me physically and throwing me to the ground.”

Having been previously employed by the federal agency herself, Edwards noted that some of the men were DHS agents, although when quizzed as to who they were and why they were conducting the raid, the men only responded by saying that they were “police,” while calling Edwards “stupid” and “retarded” for asking the question.

“While I lay naked, I was cuffed so tightly I could not feel my hands. For no reason, at gunpoint,” Edwards said. “[Agents] refused to cover me, no matter how many times I asked.”

According to Edwards’ boyfriend, one of the agents then proceeded to ogle his naked girlfriend up and down like a piece of candy.

“They spent about 2 hours trashing my house, even smashing clear glass shower doors and a vintage statue,” writes Edwards on her YouTube channel. “My boyfriend, who is asthmatic, started having trouble breathing due to the lingering smoke created by the flash bang grenade.”


After trashing her home for two hours, Edwards said the SWAT team eventually handed her a warrant signed by Jonathan Goodman, a federal magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, which authorized the agents to search for computers and electronics, although Edwards claims police seemed uninterested in the couple’s electronics and did not seize any items despite raising the suspicion of child pornography.

Surveillance camera footage of the incident shows armed agents surrounding the property. Edwards says the clip is brief because the agents ripped out her surveillance DVR while claiming that they couldn’t be recorded.

Edwards summed up her experience by describing the incident as “two hours of pure hell.” The couple have filed a complaint with the ACLU.

While the details of the incident remain unconfirmed, the story will heighten concerns that the DHS is turning into a “standing army” emblematic of a militarized police state.

John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute recently cited numerous examples of out of control DHS activity to make the point that the federal agency is a “beast that is accelerating our nation’s transformation into a police state through its establishment of a standing army, aka national police force.”

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    US police departments are increasingly militarised, finds report

    Ed Pilkington

    in New York


    Tuesday 24 June 2014 05.01 BST


    At 3am on 28 May, Alecia Phonesavanh was asleep in the room she was temporarily occupying together with her husband and four children in the small town of Cornelia, Georgia. Her baby, 18-month-old Bou Bou, was sleeping peacefully in his cot.

Suddenly there was a loud bang and several strangers dressed in black burst into the room. A blinding flash burst out with a deafening roar from the direction of the cot. Amid the confusion, Phonesavanh could see her husband pinned down and handcuffed under one of the men in black, and while her son was being held by another. Everyone was yelling, screaming, crying. “I kept asking the officers to let me have my baby, but they said shut up and sit down,” she said.

As the pandemonium died down, it became clear that the strangers in black were a Swat team of police officers from the local Habersham County force – they had raided the house on the incorrect assumption that occupants were involved in drugs. It also became clear to Phonesavanh that something had happened to Bou Bou and that the officers had taken him away.

“They told me that they had taken my baby to the hospital. They said he was fine he had only lost a tooth, but they wanted him in for observation,” Phonesavanh said.

When she got to the hospital she was horrified by what she saw. Bou Bou was in a medically-induced coma in the intensive care unit of Brady Memorial hospital. “His face was blown open. He had a hole in his chest that left his rib-cage visible.”


The Swat team that burst into the Phonesavanh’s room looking for a drug dealer had deployed a tactic commonly used by the US military in warzones, and increasingly by domestic police forces across the US. They threw an explosive device called a flashbang that is designed to distract and temporarily blind suspects to allow officers to overpower and detain them. The device had landed in Bou Bou’s cot and detonated in the baby’s face.

“My son is clinging to life. He’s hurting and there’s nothing I can do to help him,” Phonesavanh said. “It breaks you, it breaks your spirit.”

Bou Bou is not alone. A growing number of innocent people, many of them children and a high proportion African American, are becoming caught up in violent law enforcement raids that are part of an ongoing trend in America towards paramilitary policing.

The American Civil Liberties Union has released the results of its new survey into the use of Swat teams by police forces across the country. It concludes that policing has become dangerously and unnecessarily militarized, literally so with equipment and strategies being imported directly from the US army.

The findings set up a striking and troubling paradox. The Obama administration is completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the US is on the verge of being free from war for the first time in more than a decade; yet at the same time the hardware and tactics of the war zone are quietly proliferating at home.

The ACLU’s report, War Comes Home, looks at 818 Swat incidents that were carried out by more than 20 law enforcement agencies in 11 states. The raids spanned the period from July 2010 to last October.

swat team seattle washington maurice clemmons

Heavily militarised equipment, such as APCs and flashbang grenades, are increasingly entering police arsenals. Photograph: Marcus Donner/Reuters

At the very least, the ACLU finds, the growing use of battering rams to smash down doors is causing property damage to the homes that are raided. At worst, people are dying or being injured by police teams deploying the techniques of the battlefield.

The survey, which covered only a small snapshot of what is going on around the country each year, found seven cases where civilians died in connection with the deployment of the Swat teams, two of which appeared to be suicides. A further 46 civilians were injured, often due to use of force by officers.

The victims include Aiyana Stanley-Jones, seven, who was killed in 2010 when a Swat team threw a flashbang grenade like the one that injured Bou Bou into the room where she was sleeping. The device set fire to Aiyana’s blanket and when officers burst into the room they shot at the flames and hit her.

Then there was Tarika Wilson who was shot dead by Swat officers as she was holding her 14-month-old son in Lima, Ohio; the baby was injured but survived. And Eurie Stamp, a grandfather of 12, who was sitting watching baseball on TV in his pajamas in Farmington, Massachusetts, in January 2011 when a Swat team battered down his door, threw a flashbang device into the room and forced him to lie facedown on the floor. One of the officers’ guns discharged and killed Stamp, who was not the man they had come to apprehend, as he lay there.

Also in 2011, Jose Guerena, a veteran of the Iraq war, was shot 22 times in his kitchen at home in Tucson, Arizona, by officers in a Swat team that was searching the neighbourhood for drugs. Nothing was found in the Guerena home.

Swat teams were a late 1960s invention that emerged out of the Los Angeles police department. Initially, they were designed to help officers react to perilous situations such as riots, hostage taking and where an active shooter was barricaded into a house.

But they have developed into something entirely different. The ACLU survey found that 62% of Swat team call-outs were for drug searches. Some 79% involved raids on private homes, and a similar proportion were done on the back of warrants authorizing searches. By contrast, only about 7% fell into those categories for which the technique was originally intended, such as hostage situations or barricades.

Members of a Swat team search for 19-year-old bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Massachusetts

The ACLU found that 79% of Swat team raids were on private homes, and only 7% were meant for intended for missions in line with Swat teams’ original purposes. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

“Law enforcement agencies are increasingly using paramilitary squads to search people’s homes for drugs,” the ACLU writes. It adds: “Neighbourhoods are not war zones and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies.”

Research by Peter Kraska, a professor at Kentucky University, has tracked the exponential growth in the use of paramilitary tactics in the US. In the 1980s there were as few as 3,000 Swat raids a year, but by around 2005 that number had leapt to 45,000.

Such a rapid proliferation has been actively encouraged by the federal government, particularly by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, and by the Defense Department. The Pentagon channels military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan to domestic police forces under its 1033 programme, which the ACLU found had transmitted 15,000 items of battle uniforms and personal protective gear during the survey period.

The amount of equipment handed over can be substantial. North Little Rock police force in Arkansas, for instance, was granted 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, two MARCbot robots from Afghanistan that can be weaponised, helmets for ground troops and a tactical armoured vehicle.

Armoured personnel carriers, or APCs, have proliferated dramatically under the 1033 programme. About 500 law enforcement agencies believed to have received military vehicles built specifically to resist roadside bombs. The local police for Ohio state university even has an APC for use on American football match days.

Once the equipment has been handed over, the temptation is to use it. That certainly was the case for the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, who in Aprilsent a Swat team to search the house of someone who had poked fun at him in a satirical Twitter account.

As the ACLU notes: “if the federal government gives the police a huge cache of military-style weaponry, they are highly likely to use it, even if they do not really need to.”

As for the infant, Bou Bou Phonesavanh, he remains in intensive care after having been through a series of operations. “Everything is touch and go. Nothing is determined, nothing is decided,” Alecia Phonesavanh said.


The Phonesavanhs’ lawyer, Mawuli Davis, said the Swat team should have known that young children were present in the room they were raiding as there were clear tell-tale signs: a playpen outside the door and a van parked outside with four child seats in it. “We have to address the way that police in this country are armed as if they are invading a foreign land,” Mawuli said. “It’s disturbing, and innocent people are hurting.”

A few hours after the raid took place, police located the suspect they had been seeking at a different house in the neighbourhood. The officers knocked on the door, the suspect opened it, and agreed peacefully to come in for questioning.