The New Alarmism

Gordon Mohr
Fri, 21 Dec 2001 10:15:48 -0800

Ken Coar writes:
> Gordon Mohr wrote:
> > 
> > No one was told to do anything, or to stop doing anything. No
> > one was told they could expect more visits.
> The followup on the student, even after the tip was shown
> baseless?

They made a phone call to make sure they wrote down some details 
correctly! Officers of the law have to keep very detailed 
reports on all their activity. Or would you prefer that they 
can question someone at length and then leave incomplete or
error-filled records of the visit -- because a simple phone 
call would just be too spooky for a citizen to bear?

> The followup on the student, even after the tip was shown
> baseless?
> > - What did you find objectionable about the agents' behavior?
> > - What indicated a "clear attempt to intimidate"?
> 1. Showing up outside of normal hours at the museum. 

10:30am! Within normal business hours -- and barely a half an 
hour before opening!

She could have just as easily complained about them coming
during exhibit hours -- distracting her from real visitors,
"why couldn't they come when we weren't so busy" -- if you 
want to nitpick at that level.

> (They could
>    have come when it was open and gotten their information
>    (just by looking at the exhibit) without showing their badges,
>    disrupting routine, or disconcerting a citizen.) 

They weren't there to look at art! Art doesn't hurt people.
They wanted to talk to people, find out who was who and
their relationships in context. You have to chit-chat
about a lot of otherwise trivial details to get a real
understanding of a situation. 

And if they poked around without announcing themselves, but
then struck up a conversation with her and mentioned they 
were FBI agents... OhMyGod! They're conducting secret
art reviews! Then hinting at their identity in passing to
let use know they're always watching! Head for the hills! 

Really, with an active imagination, anything they do, no
matter how up-front and circumspect, can be painted sinister. 

>  Not going
>    away when refused entrance without a warrant.  

You're reading a lot into her word choice. Notably, she
does not say she refused entry after they showed their

> Asking additional
>    personal questions after the tip was shown baseless. 

Again, sounds like competent "get the whole picture"
detective work to me. But maybe that's just because
I watch a lot of "Law and Order."

>  Following
>    up with a subsequent telephone call likewise.

All the subsequent calls in that anecdote are from the 
"victim" to a friend and from the reporter to an FBI 
spokesman. Two agents made one visit that seems to have
concluded in under 30 minutes (before anyone else arrived 
at normal opening time, as she was still "alone" and 
scared by the "burly" agents at the end). And from that,
we get hysterical quotes from three people asssociated
with the museum and the article author.

> > - If a brief, cordial visit is "fairly clearly illegal",
> >   what law does it break?
> Forty minutes in your doorway after being told 'you can't
> come in' doesn't strike me as being either brief OR cordial.
> It *does* strike me as intimidating.

They weren't milling around outside menacingly -- they 
were conversing with the willing subject! It's clear 
she didn't have to open the door or talk to them, just
like she didn't have to let them in. 

Further, these personal accounts of the exact dialogue, 
duration, and order-of-events all need to be taken with a 
grain of salt. It's more common to misrecollect such
exchanges then get them right -- and a reporter retelling
the stories, trying to make them fit an agenda, adds another 
level of imprecision. 

For example, if Ms. Huanca (at the museum) really objected
to the agents entering, that would be clearly stated --
not vaguely implied with "they just walked in". Further,
she wouldn't then have given them a "very detailed tour" 
while chatting about "the role of art". 

If Ms. Brown (the freshman) really didn't want to talk
to the agents for more than a few minutes, she would have
shown the same assertiveness she used in refusing them entry 
and closed the door. That they spoke voluntarily for 40 
minutes -- and that, now, reaches the level of government

(BTW, when people think they're being persecuted, it's
amazing the false details they can dream up over time
to fit their notions. See, for example, the case of
Robert Reich's memoirs -- )

- Gordon