13 year-old Vito LaPinta was interrogated at his school in Tacoma, Washington, this week by Secret Service agents who were concerned that he might be a threat to President Obama’s safety. The interrogation occurred without the knowledge or consent of his mother, who was outraged by the incident.
According to Democracy Now, the questioning occurred after he wrote a Facebook message expressing his concern that terrorists might target Obama because of the assassination of Bin Laden. KFSN-TV, in Fresno, quoted the boy: "I was saying how Osama is dead and for Obama to be careful because there might be suicide bombers."
KFSN reported that Tacoma schools called Vito's mom but didn't wait for her to arrive because they felt that she didn't take the phone call seriously. The mother, Timi Robertson, denies the school’s allegations and claims she rushed to school as quickly as she could.
It sounds to me like the school didn’t take their responsibility to protect their students very seriously. If they did, they should have made more of an effort to delay the interrogation until his mother arrived and to protect the boy from unreasonable police harassment. More significantly, it sounds like the Obama administration is even more paranoid than even the Bush administration. Certainly, he should take threats seriously and investigate them. But the boy’s FB posting sounded more like an expression of concern for the president and an acknowledgement of what everyone else in the country has presumed: that the assassination of Bin Laden might inspire retaliatory acts. And even if he actually had made a threat, he is only 13. How likely would he be to carry it out at all, let alone do so before his mother arrived?
Meanwhile, Obama has become the most secretive president ever, according to a recent expose in the New Yorker. He has gone after whistleblower Thomas Drake, who faces 35 years in prison for espionage after leaking information to the press about the NSA’s overspending and failure to secure its spy data. According to the article, Obama has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute people in five alleged cases of national security leaks, which is more in all previous administrations combined.
Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative analyst and supporter of greater government secrecy, said that “Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon."
What Does the Prosecution of Drake Have to Do With the Interrogation of a Child?
It’s all part of the move toward increasing government secrecy, paranoia and suppression of civil liberties and freedom. The New Yorker article quoted Yale University Constitutional Law Professor Jack Balkin, who said the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a “bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national surveillance state.” This includes the creation of a huge new security bureaucracy that employs over 2.5 million people with confidential security clearances; reinterpretation of the law (e.g., redefining torture to legitimize water boarding); corporate partnerships with the government that have vastly increased the lobbying power of the counterterrorism industry; and huge amounts of tax dollars being redirected to electronic surveillance (e.g., blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
Thus, poor little Vito LaPinta, who only wanted to protect the president, got caught up in the dragnet that was set by Bush in the wake of September 11 ostensibly to catch bad guys, but which has primarily been used to curtail free speech and privacy. And contrary to claims that he supports transparency, Obama has not only accepted the Bush doctrine, but has taken it to new lows.
None of this should be a surprise. Obama’s refusal to prosecute Bush, and his assertion that we should move forward rather than back, should have made people suspicious that he was planning more of the same and was protecting himself, as well as Bush. The question is, will anyone stand up to this madness (aside from the rare whistleblowers like Drake and Bradley Manning)? Will teachers and administrators do what’s right by their children or be complicit in such absurd and unnecessary intimidation?