Another Day in the Empire
The FBI has served as a political police force since its inception. Its precursor was the National Bureau of Criminal Identification, established to monitor anarchists in 1896. The Justice Department tooled up in 1919 when it launched a series of raids to capture, arrest and deport radical leftists, especially anarchists. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer created the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation, the General Intelligence Division (GID). It was responsible for investigating radical groups and identifying their members.
Hollywood and the media love to portray heroic G-men going after mobsters, but the primary reason the FBI was established was to act as a political police force.
It really took off in the mid-1950s when J. Edgar Hoover launched COINTELPRO, a massive covert operation to ”increase factionalism, cause disruption and win defections” inside disfavored political groups, primarily the the Communist Party U.S.A., but also the civil rights and antiwar movements. “By operating covertly, the FBI and police were able to severely weaken domestic political opposition without shaking the conviction of most US people that they live in a democracy, with free speech and the rule of law,” writes Brian Glick.
In the early 1970s the government promised to institute reforms and close down the program after its abuses were made public. Glick writes:
Behind this public hoopla, however, was little real improvement in government treatment of radical activists. Domestic covert operations were briefly scaled down a bit, after the 60s’ upsurge had largely subsided, due in part to the success of COINTELPRO. But they did not stop. In April, 1971, soon after files had been taken from one of its offices, the FBI instructed its agents that “future COINTELPRO actions will be considered on a highly selective, individual basis with tight procedures to insure absolute security.”
— stimulator (@stimulator) August 4, 2016
President Reagan formalized government surveillance and disruption of political groups the establishment labels subversive when he signed Executive Order 12333.
“12333 is not a statute and has never been subject to meaningful oversight from Congress or any court. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has said that the committee has not been able to ‘sufficiently’ oversee activities conducted under 12333,” explains John Napier Tye.
In June 2015 it was discovered the FBI has a fleet of planes equipped with video and cell phone surveillance technology it deploys to spy on Americans practicing the First Amendment. The FBI created fake front companies to hide its activity.
— The Last Great Stand (@LastGreatStand) July 25, 2016
“The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found,” The Guardian reported.
“Citizens reported several aircraft flying in unusual patterns above the area of West Baltimore, where protests over Freddie Gray’s murder in police custody had turned into riots,” Gizmodo posted in May, 2015.
On Friday it was reported the FBI had released video footage from the Freddie Gray protest in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request. The footage was released after the ACLU obtained records last year showing that the agency had flown at least 10 surveillance flights over Baltimore from April 29 through May 3.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) August 6, 2016
A story posted by BuzzFeed reveals the FBI utilizes its spy planes in a number of investigations. In addition to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security is using spy planes.
We detected nearly 100 FBI fixed-wing planes, mostly small Cessnas, plus about a dozen helicopters. Collectively, they made more than 1,950 flights over our four-month-plus observation period. The aircraft frequently circled or hovered around specific locations, often for several hours in the daytime over urban areas.
We also tracked more than 90 aircraft, about two-thirds of them helicopters, that were registered to the DHS, which is responsible for border protection, customs, and immigration. Not surprisingly, these planes were especially active around border towns such as McAllen, Texas, which faces the Mexican city of Reynosa across the Rio Grande.
But the DHS’s airborne operations also extended far into the U.S. interior. And over some cities, notably Los Angeles, its aircraft seemed to circle around particular locations, behaving like those in the FBI’s fleet.
In addition to spy planes, the military has deployed high altitude blimps. The Army insists the blimps are not used to spy on Americans and are part of a security system to protect the Eastern Seaboard. Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, however, begs to differ. She told CBS News “I have these documents right here that say that the secondary purpose of this is to surveil and track surface moving targets.”
Welcome to the American panopticon.
“Just about every branch of the government—from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between—now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people,” writes John Whitehead. “Then there are the fusion and counterterrorism centers that gather all of the data from the smaller government spies—the police, public health officials, transportation, etc.—and make it accessible for all those in power. And of course that doesn’t even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine.”
The primary reason for massive and unchecked surveillance is to neutralize political opposition to the government. This was made painfully obvious when the abuses of COINTELPRO were discovered. The Son of COINTELPRO—as I dubbed it in 2002—has infected nearly every branch of government, as Whitehead notes. We are rapidly approaching a time when any effective political activism will be impossible.