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Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Washington Post: Opponents of traffic-camera systems were quick to seize on a San Diego judge's ruling last week. The judge did raise an important objection to the role of private contractors in such systems. But he also found the use of cameras constitutional. These systems can work well and are effective in reducing deadly driving. A driver blasting through a red light or speeding along a residential street, endangering lives in public space, has no claim to privacy. For decades, television cameras on poles and in helicopters have been capturing the dangerous doings of drivers who deserve to be ticketed. Technical flaws and rules governing responsibilities of owners of vehicles driven by others are not impossible to work out.
What seemed to bother San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn most, and what we found seriously wrong when the District of Columbia started clicking away to catch speeders earlier this summer, is the way the fines collected through these camera operations are split with the private company that sets them up. In San Diego, as in the Washington region, the companies are paid on a per-ticket commission basis. Said the judge, "The potential conflict created by a contingent method of compensation further undermines the trustworthiness of the evidence which is used to prosecute red-light violations."
Traffic safety: District of Columbia officials have argued that giving the firms a cut on each ticket has helped strapped governments obtain the systems. That may have been a reasonable arrangement when the camera technology was first developing and governments weren't willing or able to assume financial risks. But the cameras should be set up to improve traffic safety, not to generate revenue for governments or for private contractors on commission. Officials of Lockheed Martin IMS, which operates the San Diego system as well as Washington's, note that the company now is encouraging other financial arrangements that would not be on a commission basis. They have agreed to work with San Diego officials to address concerns raised by Judge Styn. District officials should take that as a cue to renegotiate their contract for a flat fee to cover technical services.
Los Angeles Times: Last week, just after the Irish Republican Army announced it would put its arsenals beyond use (a plan it later renounced), three of its operatives were detained at Bogota's international airport. The trio of IRA commandos was returning home after five weeks in southern Colombia, where guerrillas operate freely. Tests on the clothing of the Irish nationals turned up traces of four types of explosives as well as cocaine and amphetamines.
By Thursday, neither the IRA nor its political wing, Sinn Fein, had stepped forward to explain what its members -- among them two top IRA commanders, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley -- were doing in the Colombian jungles.
Were they teaching the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, how to manufacture bombs to be detonated in Colombian cities? Or were the IRA operatives learning from FARC experts how to build bombs in gas cylinders that can be fired like missiles, a favorite weapon of the Colombian guerrillas, who use them to bombard the homes of people they consider hostile to their cause?
'Sureshot' Of course, there's always the possibility that the Irish terrorists were learning from Manuel Marulanda, a FARC commander known by the nickname "Sureshot," how to market cocaine and methamphetamines. Or maybe they got together with Henry Castellanos, FARC's kidnapper in chief, about how to abduct civilians for profit. U.S. authorities estimate that FARC makes between $300 million and $500 million a year from drug trafficking and kidnapping.
It is possible, if unlikely, that the IRA chiefs were moonlighting for purely personal profit. If so, the IRA must disavow them and cut them loose. Gerry Adams, the political leader of Sinn Fein, has tried mightily to give the IRA a more respectable image. But this Colombian adventure, with its aura of the globalization of terror, gives the lie to the IRA's long-held stance against illegal drugs and its oft-stated commitment to peace and democracy.