I just wanted to relate a somewhat scary experience I had this weekend. I live in the vicinity of the Hood Canal of Washington State. The Hood Canal is the home of Strategic Weapons Facility, Pacific (SWFPAC), Bangor, Washington
. This won't come as news to many; the Bangor site is the scene of many protests
of the base's nuclear missle carrying submarines . I've never participated in those protests, but have done so in other places.
I was crossing the Hood Canal on Friday, and was witness to what a truly scary place the United States has become...
The Hood Canal Bridge is the longest saltwater floating bridge in the world
. As I approached the bridge from the east, I stopped at Port Gamble for a stretch. From the banks of the Canal there, I could see three Coast Guard cutters approaching the waters north of the bridge. Behind the cutters, I could see the conning tower of a nuclear submarine. Knowing that meant the bridge would be opening soon to allow the submarine to pass
, I left immediately to cross the bridge before it opened.
I reached the East highrise of the bridge just in time to see a Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter crest a ridge on the other side of the Canal and swoop down within 50 feet of the bridge, parallel to the road deck. They then flew slowly, at an angle so that the pilots could look directly into cars on the bridge deck. A vague sense of unease began when, seconds later, I saw a Suburban with g plates unloading 6 armed Marines or Naval security officers in the center of the bridge. I could see the sub was well down the Canal and I had plenty of time to get across the bridge so I continued on. But curiosity was overtaking me. Many times I have stopped on a beach, just off the western bridge approach, to watch subs and other vessels make their way through the bridge. It is truly the quintessential Northwest Washington experience to be stuck on the Hood Canal Bridge waiting for a sub to pass, and to take pictures of such things:
But it seems now that such an activity is cause for the federal government to regard you with suspicion. Like I said, my curiosity got the better of me. I went down to that little beach on the west side of the bridge, and there was about 10 other cars down there, including a white Jeep Cherokee with completely tinted windows. When I parked on beach, the Coast Guard chopper had returned to a low hover just off the beach, again poised to look at cars or the hillside behind us. I looked in my rear view mirror just in time to see the white Jeep blaze in right behind me. I thought to myself "What the hell is this?" I stepped out of my car to see what was happening and immediately saw 2 guys in BDU's through the untinted windshield of the Jeep. The passenger was writing something down. I just watched as this happened, thinking to myself that they had just written down my license plate number. Within seconds, the driver threw the Jeep into reverse and backed down the beach road and sped away across the bridge.
At first, I thought the level of security displayed was reasonable. That point at the Hood Canal would has its strategic vulerabilities. Its not an unknown. The subs need protection when they pass through there. They have nuclear reactors and the environmental damage could be huge if the reactors were comprimised. Thats merely on of the considerations.
But as I continued my trip, the paranoid side of me began to wonder if what had just happened would not have an adverse impact on my life. The military security on that beach could have just as easily blocked of the entrance to the beach if they wanted no one down there. But instead, it seems to me that they were down there recording everyone's license plate for future indexing, dissemination, investigation. Given that our federal government has resorted to holding folks in secret prisons, or sending them to client states for torture to extract useless information, or keeping Americans in prison for three years without charging them , I think I have legitimate reason to be concerned that my name is now on some list somewhere. Some ever expanding list to be retained for whatever purpose is appropriate. Like the nofly list, now at 80,000, up from 16 names in 2001. This creeping paranoia turned my ambivalence about the display of militaria on the bridge into outright disgust for the blatanly martial state I think our country has become since the dawn of Bush.