Wow, I feel ever so much safer.

12 July 2010

Unless you're dealing with the federal government, it has long been a given that the police can't enter and search the place you live without a properly filed and signed search warrant, as guaranteed by the fourth amendment to the US Constitution, which reads thus: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Sounds pretty cut and dried, doesn't it?

In the neighborhood of West Oakland, California one morning not too long ago, two county officers charged with inspecting buildings to ensure that they're up to construction code, a fire inspector, three property management representatives (I have no idea - maybe they work for the outfit that actually owns the building), and two uniformed Oakland police officers searched all of the apartments in the building one by one. The cabal of officers referred to as a SMART (Specialized Multi-Agency Response Team) got the building manager to let them into one of the apartments while no one was home so that it could be examined. What they found was a well equipped marijuana and mushroom growing operation, from which the police seized evidence and declared the apartment a potential crime scene.

Now, while if you get caught with a veritable crop of marijuana plants in your digs there's no way in hell that you're going to squirm out of it unless you have diplomatic immunity. However, the law says that there are certain protocols that have to be followed, such as probable cause, a little detective work, and the aforementioned search warrant. Whether you're 420 friendly or straight edge, giving Mr. Morden a run for his money or so open about your life that you're looking at buying a perspex house if the housing market in the States ever returns to something approximating sanity, convinced that bad things only happen to bad people or know a thing or two about the inherent hostility of the universe you still have the basic right for duly appointed and badged law enforcement officers to go through the court system to get the green light to turn your living quarters upside down. For a SMART to search your home they don't need to get a warrant nor does there have to be an emergency. For all anyone knows, they might decide to do it because they thought your license plate was too cheeky. The reason I'm concerned about this is the lack of oversight and court oversight. At what point will these search and seizure operations become SOP and not an anomaly? When will it start happening on your side of the train tracks 'just in case'? Will it start where you live?

It's something to think about.

If you keep an eye on Middle Eastern politics you've no doubt heard of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency. They're the folks that the CIA and DHS aspire to be someday, the operatives who safeguard Israel from threats within and without, handle terrorism, gather and act on intelligence, protect dignitaries, all that fun stuff. They're renowned for being scarily competent and taking no shit from anyone. A couple of days back Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, was en route to the United States. Of course, due to the fact that he's far up in the food chain of the Israeli government Netanyahu was traveling with a security detail from Shin Bet. Due to security regulations at JFK International the security retinue packed their firearms in checked luggage, a quartet of 9mm Glock pistols.. which went missing somewhen between takeoff and the luggage accidentally winding up at LAX. The luggage was eventually tracked down and recovered but the guns were missing, and remain so. Word on the street has it that the bags had been searched at Kennedy and placed under official seal.

Just lovely. I'm not sure which is worse, that this is one of the more egregious luggage thefts in a US airport, or that four guns registered to a foreign security service got jacked. How this screwup will affect Shin Bet's international reputation I have no idea; probably not all that much compared to some other ways that the trip could have gone pear-shaped.