Truth stranger than fiction?

In a development the American Civil Liberties Union has called “surreal,” an Aug. 6 Salon.com report says the Department of Justice is forwarding incoming Operation TIPS calls to Fox TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” series.

“It’s a completely inappropriate and frightening intermingling of government power and the private sector,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Rachel King. “What’s next - the government hires Candid Camera to do its video surveillance?”

Salon author David Lindorff said he signed up for TIPS and then, when he called the Justice Department about it last week, the department gave him another phone number, which it said had been set up by the FBI. At that number, Lindorff was greeted by a receptionist for “America’s Most Wanted,” which features reenactments of unsolved crimes and asks the public to phone in tips. Lindorff was told, “We’ve been asked to take the FBI’s TIPS calls for them.”

Operation TIPS poses serious threats to the American ideal that neighbors not be expected to inform on neighbors, the ACLU said.

The proposed program has sparked criticism from all sides. Ultra-right House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) introduced a measure to prohibit its implementation. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), assailing the program, said, “We could be vigilant, but we don’t want to be vigilantes.”