One morning, Steve Kurtz woke up to find his wife lying dead beside him. He called 911, but when the emergency workers came to his home, they noticed his supposedly highly suspicious laboratory and reported its existence to the FBI. Steve Kurtz was subsequently arrested under suspicion of murdering his wife and manufacturing biological weapons. His house was searched and his laboratory, hard disk and cat were all confiscated.
It so happened to be that at the time, Steve Kurtz was researching biological warfare and bioterrorism and for this reason was in possession of many books on the subject as well as the three bacteria bacillus globigii, serratia marcenscens and e.coli. Bacillus globigii is used as a biological tracer for anthrax, because even though it is harmless, its particle size and dispersal characteristics are similar to those of anthrax. Serratia Marcenscens can grow on old bread kept in a damp place, and e.coli is a bacteria found in human intestinal flora.
It turned out that Steve Kurtz's wife died of a tragic heart failure, and the Food and Drug Administration stated that no dangerous agents were found in Steve Kurtz's house. But instead letting Steve Kurtz go after it was known that he was not posing a threat to society in the form of bioterrorism, the FBI charged him with mail fraud and wire fraud, with a possibility of up to 20 years in prision.
WIRE FRAUD - 18 USC 1343, makes it a Federal crime or offense for anyone to use interstate wire communications facilities in carrying out a scheme to defraud.
A person can be found guilty of that offense only if all of the following facts are proved beyond a reasonable doubt:
First: That the person knowingly and willfully devised a scheme to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false pretenses, representations or promises; and
Second: That the person knowingly transmitted or caused to be transmitted by wire in interstate commerce some sound for the purpose of executing the scheme to defraud.
It is not necessary that the Government prove all of the details concerning the precise nature and purpose of the scheme; or that the material transmitted by wire was itself false or fraudulent; or that the alleged scheme actually succeeded in defrauding anyone; or that the use of interstate wire communications facilities was intended as the specific or exclusive means of accomplishing the alleged fraud.
What must be proved is that the person knowingly and willfully devised or intended to devise a scheme to defraud; and that the use of the interstate wire communications facilities was closely related to the scheme because the person either wired something or caused it to be wired in interstate commerce in an attempt to execute or carry out the scheme.
To "cause" interstate wire facilities to be used is to do an act with knowledge that the use of the wires will follow in the ordinary course of business or where such use can reasonably be foreseen.
Each separate use of the interstate wire facilities in furtherance of a scheme to defraud constitutes a separate offense.
MAIL FRAUD - 18 U.S.C. 1341, makes it a Federal crime or offense for anyone to use the United States mails in carrying out a scheme to defraud.
A person can be found guilty of that offense only if all of the following facts are proved: First: That the person knowingly and willfully devised a scheme to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false pretenses, representations or promises; and Second: That the person used the United States Postal Service by mailing, or by causing to be mailed, some matter or thing for the purpose of executing the scheme to defraud.
The nature of these accusations is quite different from the initial accusations of terrorism. If the government upholds certain laws that are more or less dormant, or at least not actively prosecuted, the government has a power tool for smothering anyone who could be regarded disturbing in any manner of ways. Should one be engaging in activity that is not helpful to the government, they can silence them by charging them with these laws which are usually not enforced. We assume our government would never do something like this, but in the case of Steve Kurtz there are apparently more aspects to certain seemingly normal activities than meet the eye.
So to be able to finance the lawyers that will be pleading for Steve Kurtz during the hearings on the 1st of March (after being rescheduled from the 11th of January), Steve Kurtz and Claire Pentecost from the Critical Art Ensemble are touring around and holding benefits to raise funds. They are supported by the Yes Men, who fail at parodies of a government that seems to already be a parody in itself, as well as several artists such as Snow Crash.
Before Steve Kurtz was arrested, the Critical Art Ensemble was engaged in a project called Free Range Grains, which included a mobile DNA extraction laboratory for testing food products for the presence of genetically modified organisms. This apparatus was being used to show the presence of transgenes (genetically modified DNA) in common foods. It was seized by the FBI, even though it cannot be used to grow dangerous bacteria or viruses.
Perhaps it should be expected that larger corporations or governmental institutions have more specified knowledge regarding biotechnology, but acquiring this knowledge or researching biotechnological possibilities should not only be limited to these larger corporations or governmental institutions. Of course there should be laws which protect the country from terrorist activity, but censoring all research on biotechnology because one of the possible applications could be bioterrorism is probably even more dangerous than allowing it in the first place. For instance, if the medicine Voixx hadn't been retested by a separate research agency, the drug (which triples the risk of heart attacks or strokes) might still be on the market.
As soon as knowledge becomes a form of power that can be regulated by other means than curiosity, the world falls back to the middle ages, and anything unknown or uncanny could be a dangerous. We should protect ourselves with knowledge, and not by hunting witches.
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