Since this story has just begun, it is hard to know where it will go. But as first reported it seemed that The Anne Arundel County Executive, John Leopold managed to acquire a publicly-funded camera surveillance network for his personal use that gave him spy powers over many (all?) government buildings. This has just been discovered by the new County Executive, Laurea Neuman, who stumbled upon the network. But he was able to set it up and use it without anyone noticing that he had done so, even though, presumably, county funds were used to pay the contractor.
If John Leopold’s corruption (or some parts of it) had not caught up with him, he might still be getting his secret surveillance information right now. No one knows for sure how he was using the video feeds. But, at his trial, where his parking lot sexual encounters and other disgusting practices were revealed, his character was described by Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney in ways that are remarkable since no one, at that time, knew that he had set up his own personal spy grid.
“Sweeney described the behavior of the second-term Republican as ‘outrageous, egregious and wildly beyond’ any authority he has as county executive and said his treatment of his scheduler, Patricia Medlin, in particular was ‘predatory and cruel.’”
Leopold had faked the incapacity of being unable to empty his catheter bag apparently for the sheer pleasure of making his scheduler go through the humiliating process for him in the men’s restroom. No wonder the prosecutor called him a “bully.”
But also revealing was another charge: “Sweeney found that Leopold was also guilty of misconduct when he had a protection officer prepare dossiers on political rivals, including Democratic opponent Joanna Conti.” Again, this was all before the recent discovery that Leopold had a private camera network covering government buildings.
Security cameras are nothing new, but they are typically designed to enhance security and are used by security people. No one in Maryland law enforcement even knew about the system. All the cameras in all the buildings went into one unmarked room. The system was run by a private contractor. According to the Washington Post, the retired police officer, who was once part of Leopold’s security detail, is now claiming he made reports to the police, but the police told the new County executive they knew nothing about it.
“Neuman said Tuesday the cameras had been paid for with Department of Homeland Security grants, and after a sweep of the county executive and county council offices, police had assured her ‘no improper monitoring’ was taking place.”
Notice, that the police actually had to conduct a sweep. If they had ever known about the camera system, they certainly did not remember anything about it until now.
Officials from earlier times claim that the cameras were set up soon after 9-ll and stopped some building thefts. According to them, everyone had forgotten about them and their purpose as personnel changed over the years.
So what has really happened. Is the Washington Post’s recent findings the truth of the matter? At the time of this writing, Neuman has not yet revealed that her promised investigation is completed.
Even if this all turns out to be a big mix-up, the incident shows how precarious our freedoms are. If a massive surveillance system can be “forgotten” about, then isn’t it reasonable to think that it can be found and used by unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats? Because no one remembers the system in the first place, no one can be held accountable for using it.
I don’t see any reason to assume that Anne Arundel County in Maryland is unique among counties and other jurisdictions in the United States. As DHS provides “easy money” for surveillance to be set up over all the country, there is a great deal of potential for abuse.
If the "we just forgot about it" story is true, that might indicate that surveillance systems are more appropriate for longtime personal rulers rather than governments with election turnover. If so, that would indicate that surveillance systems are not a good match for the US way of governing.