We’ve turned a horrible new page in the War on Terror as the FDNY — The Fire Department of the City of New York — have joined with the Department of Homeland Security to spy on residents.

The FDNY, as you know, made their place in history on 9/11 when 343 responders gave their lives. The FDNY not only fight fires, they also have an elite EMS paramedic team that responds to people in distress.

The FDNY is the largest municipal fire department in the world with nearly 12,000 firefighters and 3,000 providing EMS. Since 9/11, the FDNY have become even more of the fabric and stone of the City as they are revered and honored in the ordinary and the every day.

The hallmark of the Bush administration’s War on Terror is, if anything — creative in its cruelty and audacious in its daring
— and that’s why the FDNY and its sparkling reputation were picked to test a new anti-terror program to spy on citizens.

The brilliance in this despicable effort is that the FDNY — unlike the police and other law enforcement agencies — do not need a warrant to enter your home. If the FDNY senses or is merely made aware of a possible emergency in a home, they are required by law to forcefully enter to investigate. My first entertainment agent in New York City actually helped make that requirement to enter an apartment the law when his elderly mother called 911 for emergency assistance. When paramedics arrived at her apartment, and knocked on her door, she did not answer.

The paramedics left. She was later found dead in her apartment. My agent promptly sued the City claiming — rightfully so — that if a person is in emergency distress and calls 911 for help it is the DUTY OF THE CITY to break into an apartment or home to see why the person is unable to answer the door: Are they dead? Are they unable to move? Are they being held against their will?

That Must Enter law is a good law — and my agent made a tidy sum of money teaching that lesson to New York City in court — but, like all good things in life, there are those who will abuse the law and nudge the power of proper intentions for their darker, self-serving, needs and demands. Enter the Department of Homeland Security. Once the FDNY has access to your home, the Homeland Security surveillance program begins, as reported by WCBS-TV:

In times of emergencies, firefighters are trusted to help those in need – often putting their lives on the line to save others, but imagine having the FDNY telling police what they see in your or your neighbor’s home. Unlike the police, firefighters and paramedics do not need warrants to get into private homes and buildings – that is why there’s a new push to make them an important part of the war on terror and crime.

The Department of Homeland Security is testing a program with New York City firefighters — the idea is to give fire departments a way to share intelligence information with the appropriate agencies — a system that did not exist before. According to the AP, Homeland Security is training New York firefighters to spot unusual or dangerous chemicals, surveillance equipment, maps, photos, blue prints, and also firearms or weapons.

We now have FDNY firefighters — first trained to put out fires and to save lives — now secondarily looking at your bookshelf for bomb-making materials or anti-American propaganda and then reporting you to the government for further investigation. If you have too many nails in your home are you planning to make a pipe bomb? Better report it, just to be safe. If the Koran is on your nightstand — does that indicate a loss of American faith?

Better report it just to get it on the record. How do you feel about the FDNY spying on civilians as they put out kitchen fires and rescue dying mothers with one eye — while looking at your magazine subscriptions with the other eye on their way out the door? Is the next logical step in this FDNY/Homeland fiasco leaving behind listening devices or lipstick video cameras in the homes they now “protect and serve” and, perhaps, even answering phony “911 calls” in order to get firefighters into homes faster than the police?

How soon will the FDNY be issued sidearms and bullet-proof vests along with their axes and fire hoses as their “New York’s Bravest” motto inevitably becomes: “New York’s Bravest Spies.”


  1. I’m not bothered by this particularly but I think it dilutes the efforts of the FDNY. Multi-tasking is not always the best way of dealing with things.

  2. One:
    FDNY, having no warrant, cannot under the current laws due more than report to Homeland Security. It might cause greater scrutiny of a person, but couldn’t be used directly for than probable cause to obtain a warrant.
    FDNY personnel could already do the same thing as individuals. There’s a tip line, remember? This just make it easier for them and gives them a certain amount of training, which would hopefully reduce the amounts of the false positives that your post warns of.
    I’ve worked with the NSA, Homeland Security, FBI, and the DEA. I know some of what is already going on, so this fails to worry me. I already know that much of our privacy is just an courtesy at best and an illusion at worst.

  3. One:
    Why even report it to Homeland Security then if the information can’t be used? We have been duped by that sort of illogical logic before and we’re in Iraq now because of it. We all know the information will certainly be used and logged just as the AT&T pipeline copying is currently being culled for “information.”
    Then why have the relationship between the FDNY and Homeland Security if there is already a method in place for ratting out your neighbors via a tip line? Gives who “a certain amount of training” and to what end?
    What are the details of your work with all those agencies? If you won’t tell us, then why mention the agencies? I, too, have done similar work — but I’m certainly never allowed to mention the agency or suggest that I know more than I will reveal in a public forum.

  4. David,
    My work wasn’t classified. I provided information and network security services to those agencies. While I can’t speak to exactly what I did due to professional ethics, I can clearly comment on anything I saw or heard in non-classified communications.
    As you might guess, the infrastructure for surveillance of most parts of your life and activities is already in place. What is currently lacking is interconnects between the agencies to allow for sharing data.
    Also, all law enforcement and government agencies have friendly judges that will grant search warrants on request. The exigent circumstances laws also allow for entering premises without warrant. Most privacies are just courtesy.

  5. I agree we are always under surveillance, jonolan, and that using firefighters as spies is an interesting and daring way to get more information on every citizen and not just the terrorists — my question today is why formalize that relationship with FDNY spying and Homeland security if it is already naturally in place?
    My reasoning is there is something else going on with this spying than the merely inactive observational and to formalize the “testing” must have proprietary or legal implications that are not being placed promptly enough into public view for analysis and discussion.

  6. Right! So why even involve Homeland Security?
    I don’t think collected data ever disappears even from the hands of incompetents.
    There is inherent value in knowing and those who know that want access to that information.

  7. I just think if Homeland Security wanted information on us — go about it through established legal methods instead of trying to get around needing warrants to spy on us by using firefighters.

  8. I may have mentioned this before but when I was a kid my mother told me the thing she loved best about the United States was that she could march up and down the street with a sign that said “Down with Bush!” (Daddy Bush, that is) and not get arrested – unlike in Romania, where such an offense would have gotten you in prison at the time.
    Is there a fire in your home? Quick, hide The Anarchist Cookbook! I can see the problems that firefighter spying will inevitably cause people. On the other hand, hasn’t it always been the case that if a fireman was in your home for whatever reason and saw, for the sake of argument, bomb making materials – that they could report you to the police? I imagine such materials would probably not be legal to own 🙂

  9. Hi Gordon!
    I don’t remember that story about your mother! How wonderful! I simply love the anarchist in her and I’m glad the USA was a place — at one time at least — where dissent was valued and not demonized.
    You precisely took my point today and ran with it. The FDNY have been made into the Thought Police with this ridiculous policy and in-bed agreement with Homeland Security. Let’s take your point about “bomb-making materials” and suss it out.
    What might those materials be that would get you reported? A handful of nails? A bottle of bleach? A bag of fertilizer?
    Now let’s get into the realm of rationale and reasoning. How many nails is too many? How many bottles of bleach get you reported? How many pounds of fertilizer is dangerous?
    We are making the FDNY into the police in those examples who have to make Homeland Security Threat Assessments in the field — in someone’s home — instead of concentrating of firefighting and rescue.

  10. What a shame to burden such an organisation with such an onerous task – and ohe that will inevitably sully their reputation and erode their good name and the wholehearted support that they currently enjoy.

  11. I appreciate your view from the UK, Nicola — because I have been wondering if this sense of infringement against entitlement was a USA-centered melodrama — but now I know the outrage over this mess is felt internationally as well.

  12. FDNY stood out all over the world because of the way they conducted themselves on that fateful day.
    They were heroes in the true sense – they are a rare commodity these days.
    To tar them with Bushes tainted brush and involve them in the war on terror does them a great disservice – all over the world.

  13. That’s it, Nicola!
    The FDNY were beloved for their incredible sacrifice in the face of terror. FDNY firefighters entered buildings they knew would kill them — but they did it anyway out of honor and duty and 343 of them perished.
    To now sully the memories of the dead with this spying scheme is just disgusting.
    I can understand Homeland Security trying to ride on the FDNY’s coattails — they have already proven their immoral ineffectualism — but the fact that the FDNY went along with the ploy is truly heartbreaking in so many ways.

  14. I have to say I was asking myself that question – what are FDNY getting out of it ?
    Or were they given any choice in the matter ?

  15. There’s supposed to be, as I understand it, a “reciprocal exchange of information” between the FDNY and Homeland Security. I have no idea what Homeland might offer the FDNY in exchange for the more valuable “in person” information the FDNY culls for Homeland.

  16. That seems a very unequal exchange to me especially as it seems to ignore the blemishes on the name and reputation of FDNY.

  17. I think you’re right, Nicola!
    Unless there’s some kind of money involved:
    DHS: Here’s $10,000 that we want you to spend investigating what we think is a firebug living over on Avenue A and 9th. Check it out for us and report back what you find.
    FDNY: We keep the change, right?
    DHS: Your time and reputation are valuable to us.

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