by James J. Devine
During World War I, unrestrained Army spies were given free reign to gather information on potential subversives, but in her book “Army Surveillance in America,” historian Joan M. Jensen notes, “What began as a system to protect the government from enemy agents became a vast surveillance system to watch civilians who violated no law but who objected to wartime policies or to the war itself.”
The War Department also organized the American Protective League (APL), composed of close to a quarter of a million self-styled patriot volunteers who harassed labor organizers, intimidated and arrested opponents of the draft, and investigated Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, pacifist groups, and antiwar religious sects.
Through all of six million APL investigations, the army caught exactly one German spy, a naval officer who tried to enter the United States via Nogales, Arizona. That was a worse record than New York’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk tactics, a tremendous failure that 98 percent of the time proved police officers’ suspicions were unjustified.
During World War II the United States government ordered the internment in “War Relocation Camps” of about 110,000 people of Japanese heritage, 62 percent of whom were American citizens.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that apologized for the internment, disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs, and acknowledged that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
Throughout the 20th Century, in periods of domestic unrest and foreign conflict, government surveillance ratcheted up again, most notably in the 1960s.
Army intelligence operatives compiled thousands of dossiers on citizens, many of whom had committed no offense beyond protesting government policy, in a program that Justice William O. Douglas called “a cancer in our body politic.”
The FBI used a series of covert and illegal operations under the official label ‘COINTELPRO’ against domestic political groups between 1956 and 1971. COINTELPRO tactics included discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents; planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment’ and illegal violence including assassination… all to protect national security.
FBI records show that 85% of COINTELPRO targeted groups and individuals were aadvocating civil rights, protesting the Vietnam War, or associated with the women’s rights movement. Such notable Americans as Albert Einstein, who was a socialist and a member of several civil rights groups, and Martin Luther King, Jr. came under FBI surveillance.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover issued directives ordering FBI agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the activities of legal, peaceful movements and their leaders.
The moron President George W. Bush selected Iran-Contra convict John Poindexter as head of the Pentagon’s Office of Information Awareness, to develop a vast surveillance database to bring government surveillance into the 21st Century.
The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret magistrate that is supposed to provide critical oversight over vast domestic spying programs, said the judiciary cannot independently verify how often surveillance agencies break the rules that protect Americans’ privacy and that it must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans.
President Obama and other leaders have emphasized the court’s oversight power to make sure that these programs aren’t being abused.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement to The Washington Post: “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance” when the government improperly spies on Americans.
America must rebuild a smart, effective low-tech, labor intensive intelligence agency, much like those we relied on in the past, and use it engage in police-style investigations of suspected criminals instead of high-tech data-mining techniques that treat everyone as if we have broken the law.
Government and corporate power must be restrained in order to secure liberty, equality and justice for our citizens. Our founding fathers knew this, President Teddy Roosevelt knew it and we are reminded today by such heroic figures as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.
Our nation’s founders had just cause to fear highly concentrated power, not only out of their experience under the monarchy but because we have repeatedly demonstrated our capacity for excess and evil.
Some 300 years of slavery, the eradication of this continent’s indiginous people and the corporate exploitation of the poor during part of the 19th and 20th centuries — as well as today — are all proof of that.
In 1975, Senator Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who was then chairman of the select committee on intelligence, investigated the ultrasecret National Security Agency and came away stunned.
“That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people,” said Church, “and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”
He added that if a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. “could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.”
Government power today is heavily influenced by corporate money, an unprecedented level of corruption that widely known and yet not addressed by citizens who feel powerless.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for exposing the murder of two unarmed journalists by a pair of Army attack helicopters and Snowden fled the country after revealing how extensive N.S.A. spying on Americans violates the constitution, but those nameless government employees who tortured detainees, killed innocents and ordered or conducted illegal acts go unpunished.
How much deeper must this infection reach before you take responsibility for the situation you created? After all, this land is your land and that government of the people and by the people no longer seems to be for the people.
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