Do You Know Who I Am?

Alan Dershowitz weighed in on the David Gregory vs Glenn Greenwald dispute. “Greenwald’s a total phony. He is anti-American, he loves tyrannical regimes, and he did this because he hates America. This had nothing to do with publicizing information.”


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Gregory, you will recall, suggested that Greenwald may have “abetted” Snowden’s actions: “to the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mister Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” to which Greenwald replied, “I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.”  The implication was that Greenwald could do what he did because he was a journalist. Gregory, it will be further recalled, illustrated an anti-gun law by violating it on the air.

You see Gregory is also a journalist.  So he gets a get out of jail card just the same as Greenwald. That’s cool! But what is a journalist? Gloria Allred, who was also on the show with Dershowitz, offered these thoughts.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call Mr. Greenwald a journalist – I would think of a journalist as someone who is neutral. I see Mr. Greenwald as more of an advocate, defending his source, almost acting as a lawyer.”

Who you are seems to matter more and more than what you do.

Authority is a great thing to have because it means special rules apply to you. It is so handy that the number of people exercising authority understandably tends to grow. Recently, the Airline Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) questioned the power of the Customs and Border Protection to search aircraft well within the borders of the US, “noting that CBP’s authority to conduct searches of aircraft that have crossed an international border is well understood, questioned the agency’s authority to operate in places like Iowa City.”


“In all of our research to date, we cannot identify what authority is granted Customs and Border Protection to monitor general aviation activity within the borders of the United States and we question the authority under which CBP is conducting this monitoring, stop and search activity,” Mead wrote …

pilots have been stopped and detained more than once by CBP agents operating well inland of the borders, targeting for invasive searches aircraft that never came close to crossing a border. AOPA is aware of some searches that could have compromised airworthiness, with uncertified personnel removing inspection plates, for example.

The proliferation of police powers in turn creates the need to equalize, akin to credential inflation. Once upon a time you could be President of the United States with a high school diploma. Today one needs a college degree at least. Probably the same thing applies to bureaucracies. Once upon a time you just needed to be bureaucrat. Today the thing to be is a bureaucrat with a badge.  Bruce Schneier calls this phenomenon “privilege escalation”. He cites the example of transit cops whose main ambition was to drop the “transit” part of their job description.

In the computer security world, privilege escalation means using some legitimately granted authority to secure extra authority that was not intended. This is a real-world counterpart. Even though transit police departments are meant to police their vehicles only, the title — and the ostensible authority that comes along with it — is useful elsewhere.


He also cites the case of an auto repair shop that created its own police force to keep up with Jonses, using the transit cop route.

Yosef Maiwandi formed the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority — a tiny, privately run nonprofit organization that provides bus rides to disabled people and senior citizens. It operates out of an auto repair shop. Then, because the law seems to allow transit companies to form their own police departments, he formed the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority Police Department. As a thank you, he made Stefan Eriksson a deputy police commissioner of the San Gabriel Transit Authority Police’s anti-terrorism division, and gave him business cards.

I may only look like a van driver ...

I may only look like a van driver …

An LA Times article says there are reports of criminals starting their own police departments.

Most local police agencies are certified by California’s Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training. But Alan Deal, a spokesman for the agency, said the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority Police Department has not been certified.

Without meeting state standards, a police officer has few powers beyond that of a security guard, who can carry weapons and make citizen’s arrests.

Deal said that his agency has discovered that several railroad agencies around California have created police departments — even though the companies have no rail lines in California to patrol. The police certification agency is seeking to decertify those agencies because it sees no reason for them to exist in California.

The issue of private transit firms creating police agencies has in recent years been a concern in Illinois, where several individuals with criminal histories created railroads as a means of forming a police agency.


The problem with being the just border police is it’s too confining. It’s only natural to aim for more. Left unchecked privilege escalation can be used to grab resources that were formerly in the commons. The David Gregory/Glenn Greenwald example is illustrates the point. It used to be that First Amendment covered everybody. But now that anyone can post on the Internet, and further given that some of these have wider audiences than journalists, they need a little privilege escalation to even things up. One way is to argue that journalists are exempted to degree greater than citizens from the effects of the law. In effect, they’ve granted themselves comparatively more privileges than the regular civilian. Unchallenged that will become more or less conventional wisdom.

Pretty soon being just an ordinary citizen won’t be worth a plugged nickel, what with Immigration Amnesty and all. There’s a business opportunity in creating categories of citizenship, like the credit card companies do. Silver, Gold, Platinum. Maybe one day you’ll need a badge to cross the street and we can all be cops.

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