Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

“You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”—George Orwell, 1984

None of us are perfect. All of us bend the rules occasionally. Even before the age of overcriminalization, when the most upstanding citizen could be counted on to break at least three laws a day without knowing it, most of us have knowingly flouted the law from time to time.

Indeed, there was a time when most Americans thought nothing of driving a few miles over the speed limit, pausing (rather than coming to a full stop) at a red light when making a right-hand turn if no one was around, jaywalking across the street, and letting their kid play hookie from school once in a while. Of course, that was before the era of speed cameras that ticket you for going even a mile over the posted limit, red light cameras that fine you for making safe “rolling stop” right-hand turns on red, surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software mounted on street corners, and school truancy laws that fine parents for “unexcused” absences.

My, how times have changed.

Today, there’s little room for indiscretions, imperfections, or acts of independence—especially not when the government can listen in on your phone calls, monitor your driving habits, track your movements, scrutinize your purchases and peer through the walls of your home. That’s because technology—specifically the technology employed by the government against the American citizenry—has upped the stakes dramatically so that there’s little we do that is not known by the government.

In such an environment, you’re either a paragon of virtue, or you’re a criminal.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re all criminals. This is the creepy, calculating yet diabolical genius of the American police state: the very technology we hailed as revolutionary and liberating has become our prison, jailer, probation officer, Big Brother and Father Knows Best all rolled into one.

A Government of Wolves book coverConsider that on any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. As I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

For example, police have been using Stingray devices mounted on their cruisers to intercept cell phone calls and text messages without court-issued search warrants. Thwarting efforts to learn how and when these devices are being used against an unsuspecting populace, the FBI is insisting that any inquiries about the use of the technology be routed to the agency “in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to intervene to protect the equipment/technology and information from disclosure and potential compromise.”

Doppler radar devices, which can detect human breathing and movement within in a home, are already being employed by the police to deliver arrest warrants and are being challenged in court. One case in particular, United States v Denson, examines how the Fourth Amendment interacts with the government’s use of radar technology to peer inside a suspect’s home. As Judge Neil Gorsuch recognizes in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling in the case, “New technologies bring with them not only new opportunities for law enforcement to catch criminals but also new risks for abuse and new ways to invade constitutional rights.”

License plate readers, yet another law enforcement spying device made possible through funding by the Department of Homeland Security, can record up to 1800 license plates per minute. However, it seems these surveillance cameras can also photograph those inside a moving car. Recent reports indicate that the Drug Enforcement Administration has been using the cameras in conjunction with facial recognition software to build a “vehicle surveillance database” of the nation’s cars, drivers and passengers.

Sidewalk and “public space” cameras, sold to gullible communities as a sure-fire means of fighting crime, is yet another DHS program that is blanketing small and large towns alike with government-funded and monitored surveillance cameras. It’s all part of a public-private partnership that gives government officials access to all manner of surveillance cameras, on sidewalks, on buildings, on buses, even those installed on private property.

Couple these surveillance cameras with facial recognition and behavior-sensing technology and you have the makings of “pre-crime” cameras, which scan your mannerisms, compare you to pre-set parameters for “normal” behavior, and alert the police if you trigger any computerized alarms as being “suspicious.”

Capitalizing on a series of notorious abductions of college-aged students, several states are pushing to expand their biometric and DNA databases by requiring that anyone accused of a misdemeanor have their DNA collected and catalogued. However, technology is already available that allows the government to collect biometrics such as fingerprints from a distance, without a person’s cooperation or knowledge. One system can actually scan and identify a fingerprint from nearly 20 feet away.

Radar guns have long been the speed cop’s best friend, allowing him to hide out by the side of the road, identify speeding cars, and then radio ahead to a police car, which does the dirty work of pulling the driver over and issuing a ticket. Never mind that what this cop is really doing is using an electronic device to search your car without a search warrant, violating the Fourth Amendment and probable cause. Yet because it’s a cash cow for police and the governments they report to, it’s a practice that is not only allowed but encouraged. Indeed, developers are hard at work on a radar gun that can actually show if you or someone in your car is texting. No word yet on whether the technology will also be able to detect the contents of that text message.

It’s a sure bet that anything the government welcomes (and funds) too enthusiastically is bound to be a Trojan horse full of nasty surprises. Case in point: police body cameras. Hailed as the easy fix solution to police abuses, these body cameras—made possible by funding from the Department of Justice—will turn police officers into roving surveillance cameras. Of course, if you try to request access to that footage, you’ll find yourself being led a merry and costly chase through miles of red tape, bureaucratic footmen and unhelpful courts.

The “internet of things” refers to the growing number of “smart” appliances and electronic devices now connected to the internet and capable of interacting with each other and being controlled remotely. These range from thermostats and coffee makers to cars and TVs. Of course, there’s a price to pay for such easy control and access. That price amounts to relinquishing ultimate control of and access to your home to the government and its corporate partners. For example, while Samsung’s Smart TVs are capable of “listening” to what you say, thereby allow users to control the TV using voice commands, it also records everything you say and relays it to a third party.

Then again, the government doesn’t really need to spy on you using your smart TV when the FBI can remotely activate the microphone on your cellphone and record your conversations. The FBI can also do the same thing to laptop computers without the owner knowing any better.

Government surveillance of social media such as Twitter and Facebook is on the rise. Americans have become so accustomed to the government overstepping its limits that most don’t even seem all that bothered anymore about the fact that the government is spying on our emails and listening in on our phone calls.

Drones, which will begin to take to the skies en masse this year, will be the converging point for all of the weapons and technology already available to law enforcement agencies. This means drones that can listen in on your phone calls, see through the walls of your home, scan your biometrics, photograph you and track your movements, and even corral you with sophisticated weaponry.

And then there’s the Internet and cell phone kill switch, which enables the government to shut down Internet and cell phone communications without Americans being given any warning. It’s a practice that has been used before in the U.S., albeit in a limited fashion. In 2005, cell service was disabled in four major New York tunnels (reportedly to avert potential bomb detonations via cell phone). In 2009, those attending President Obama’s inauguration had their cell signals blocked (again, same rationale). And in 2011, San Francisco commuters had their cell phone signals shut down (this time, to thwart any possible protests over a police shooting of a homeless man).

It’s a given that the government’s tactics are always more advanced than we know, so there’s no knowing what new technologies are already being deployed against without our knowledge. Certainly, by the time we learn about a particular method of surveillance or new technological gadget, it’s a sure bet that the government has been using it covertly for years already. And if other governments are using a particular technology, you can bet that our government used it first. For instance, back in 2011, it was reported that the government of Tunisia was not only monitoring the emails of its citizens but was actually altering the contents of those emails in order to thwart dissidents. How much do you want to bet that government agents have already employed such tactics in the U.S.?

Apart from the obvious dangers posed by a government that feels justified and empowered to spy on its people and use its ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and technology to monitor and control them, we’re approaching a time in which we will be forced to choose between obeying the dictates of the government—i.e., the law, or whatever a government officials deems the law to be—and maintaining our individuality, integrity and independence.

When people talk about privacy, they mistakenly assume it protects only that which is hidden behind a wall or under one’s clothing. The courts have fostered this misunderstanding with their constantly shifting delineation of what constitutes an “expectation of privacy.” And technology has furthered muddied the waters.

However, privacy is so much more than what you do or say behind locked doors. It is a way of living one’s life firm in the belief that you are the master of your life, and barring any immediate danger to another person (which is far different from the carefully crafted threats to national security the government uses to justify its actions), it’s no one’s business what you read, what you say, where you go, whom you spend your time with, and how you spend your money.

Unfortunately, privacy as we once knew it is dead.

We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.

Thus, to be an individual today, to not conform, to have even a shred of privacy, and to live beyond the reach of the government’s roaming eyes and technological spies, one must not only be a rebel but rebel.

Even when you rebel and take your stand, there is rarely a happy ending awaiting you. You are rendered an outlaw. This is the message in almost every dystopian work of fiction, from classic writers such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury to more contemporary voices such as Margaret Atwood, Lois Lowry and Suzanne Collins.

How do you survive in the American police state?

We’re running out of options. As Philip K. Dick, the visionary who gave us Minority Report and Blade Runner, advised:

“If, as it seems, we are in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, free, human individual would be: cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that’ll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities.”

Fully masked and suited up in personal protective clothing and equipment, special agents on the Jacksonville FBI SWAT team pack into a deployment vehicle.

We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.[1]—President Harry S. Truman

Secret police. Secret courts. Secret government agencies. Surveillance. Intimidation tactics. Harassment. Torture. Brutality. Widespread corruption. Entrapment schemes.

These are the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime from the Roman Empire to modern-day America, yet it’s the secret police—tasked with silencing dissidents, ensuring compliance, and maintaining a climate of fear—who sound the death knell for freedom in every age.

Every regime has its own name for its secret police: Mussolini’s OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials.[2] Stalin’s NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror and depopulation.[3] Hitler’s Gestapo went door to door ferreting out dissidents and other political “enemies” of the state.[4] And in the U.S., it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues and mosques; issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records; using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government,[5] or persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them,[6] the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.

Indeed, a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers, the government’s henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.

Case in point: the FBI is being sued after its agents, lacking sufficient evidence to acquire a search warrant, disabled a hotel’s internet and then impersonated Internet repair technicians in order to gain access to a hotel suite and record the activities of the room’s occupants. Justifying the warrantless search as part of a sting on internet gambling, FBI officials insisted that citizens should not expect the same right to privacy in the common room of a hotel suite as they would at home in their bedroom.[7]

Far from being tough on crime, FBI agents are also among the nation’s most notorious lawbreakers. In fact, in addition to creating certain crimes in order to then “solve” them, the FBI also gives certain informants permission to break the law, “including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies,” in exchange for their cooperation on other fronts.[8] USA Today estimates that agents have authorized criminals to engage in as many as 15 crimes a day.[9] Some of these informants are getting paid astronomical sums: one particularly unsavory fellow, later arrested for attempting to run over a police officer, was actually paid $85,000 for his help laying the trap for an entrapment scheme.[10]

In a stunning development reported by The Washington Post, a probe into misconduct by an FBI agent has resulted in the release of at least a dozen convicted drug dealers from prison. Several suspects awaiting trial have also been freed, and more could be released as the unnamed agent’s caseload comes under scrutiny. As the Post reports: “The scope and type of alleged misconduct by the agent have not been revealed, but defense lawyers involved in the cases described the mass freeing of felons as virtually unprecedented—and an indication that convictions could be in jeopardy. Prosecutors are periodically faced with having to drop cases over police misconduct, but it is unusual to free those who have been found guilty.”[11]

In addition to procedural misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, the FBI’s laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, and harassment.

For example, the Associated Press recently lodged a complaint with the Dept. of Justice after learning that FBI agents created a fake AP news story and emailed it, along with a clickable link, to a bomb threat suspect in order to implant tracking technology onto his computer and identify his location.[12] Lambasting the agency, AP attorney Karen Kaiser railed, “The FBI may have intended this false story as a trap for only one person. However, the individual could easily have reposted this story to social networks, distributing to thousands of people, under our name, what was essentially a piece of government disinformation.”[13]

Then again, to those familiar with COINTELPRO, an FBI program created to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” groups and individuals the government considers politically objectionable,[14] it should come as no surprise that the agency has mastered the art of government disinformation.

The FBI has been particularly criticized in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for targeting vulnerable individuals and not only luring them into fake terror plots but actually equipping them with the organization, money, weapons and motivation to carry out the plots—entrapment—and then jailing them for their so-called terrorist plotting. This is what the FBI characterizes as “forward leaning—preventative—prosecutions.”[15]

Another fallout from 9/11, National Security Letters, one of the many illicit powers authorized by the USA Patriot Act, allows the FBI to secretly demand that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands.[16] An internal audit of the agency found that the FBI practice of issuing tens of thousands of NSLs every year for sensitive information such as phone and financial records, often in non-emergency cases, is riddled with widespread violations.[17]

The FBI’s surveillance capabilities, on a par with the National Security Agency, boast a nasty collection of spy tools ranging from Stingray devices that can track the location of cell phones to Triggerfish devices which allow agents to eavesdrop on phone calls.[18]  In one case, the FBI actually managed to remotely reprogram a “suspect’s” wireless internet card so that it would send “real-time cell-site location data to Verizon, which forwarded the data to the FBI.”[19]

Now the FBI is seeking to expand its already invasive hacking powers to allow agents to hack into any computer, anywhere in the world.[20] As journalist Brett Wilkins warns:

If the proposed rule change is approved, the FBI would have the power to unleash “network investigative techniques” against computers anywhere in the world, allowing the agency to secretly install malware and spyware on any computer, effectively allowing it to control that computer and all its stored information. The FBI could download all the computer’s digital contents, switch its camera or microphone on or off and even control other computers in its network.[21]

And then there’s James Comey, current director of the FBI, who knows enough to say all the right things about the need to abide by the Constitution, all the while his agency routinely discards it. Comey has this idea that the government’s powers shouldn’t be limited, especially when it comes to carrying out surveillance on American citizens.[22] Responding to reports that Apple and Google are creating smart phones that will be more difficult to hack into, Comey has been lobbying Congress and the White House to force technology companies to keep providing the government with backdoor access to Americans’ cell phones.[23]

It’s not all Comey’s fault, though. This transformation of the FBI into a secret police force can be traced back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover. As author Anthony S. Summers points out, it was Hoover who “built the first federal fingerprint bank, and his Identification Division would eventually offer instant access to the prints of 159 million people. His Crime Laboratory became the most advanced in the world.”[24]

Eighty years after Hoover instituted the FBI’s first fingerprint “database”—catalogued on index cards, no less—the agency’s biometric database has grown to massive proportions, the largest in the world, encompassing everything from fingerprints, palm, face and iris scans[25] to DNA,[26] and is being increasingly shared between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an effort to target potential criminals long before they ever commit a crime. This is what’s known as pre-crime.

If it were just about fighting the “bad guys,” that would be one thing. But as countless documents make clear, the FBI has a long track record of abusing its extensive powers in order to blackmail politicians, spy on celebrities[27] and high-ranking government officials,[28] and intimidate dissidents of all stripes.[29] It’s an old tactic, used effectively by former authoritarian regimes.

In fact, as historian Robert Gellately documents, the Nazi police state was repeatedly touted as a model for other nations to follow, so much so that Hoover actually sent one of his right-hand men, Edmund Patrick Coffey, to Berlin in January 1938 at the invitation of Germany’s secret police. As Gellately noted, “[A]fter five years of Hitler’s dictatorship, the Nazi police had won the FBI’s seal of approval.”[30]

Indeed, so impressed was the FBI with the Nazi order that, as the New York Times recently revealed, in the decades after World War II, the FBI, along with other government agencies, aggressively recruited at least a thousand Nazis, including some of Hitler’s highest henchmen, brought them to America, hired them on as spies and informants, and then carried out a massive cover-up campaign to ensure that their true identities and ties to Hitler’s holocaust machine would remain unknown. Moreover, anyone who dared to blow the whistle on the FBI’s illicit Nazi ties found himself spied upon, intimidated, harassed and labeled a threat to national security.[31]

So not only have American taxpayers have been paying to keep ex-Nazis on the government payroll for decades but we’ve been subjected to the very same tactics used by the Third Reich: surveillance, militarized police, overcriminalization, and a government mindset that views itself as operating outside the bounds of the law.

A Government of Wolves book coverYet as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,[32] it’s no coincidence that the similarities between the American police state and past totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany grow more pronounced with each passing day. This is how freedom falls, and tyrants come to power.

Suffice it to say that when and if a true history of the FBI is ever written, it will not only track the rise of the American police state but it will also chart the decline of freedom in America: how a nation that once abided by the rule of law and held the government accountable for its actions has steadily devolved into a police state where justice is one-sided, a corporate elite runs the show, representative government is a mockery, police are extensions of the military, surveillance is rampant, privacy is extinct, and the law is little more than a tool for the government to browbeat the people into compliance.

[1] Anthony S. Summers, “The secret life of J Edgar Hoover,” The Guardian (Dec. 31, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jan/01/j-edgar-hoover-secret-fbi.

[2] Peter Neville, Mussolini (Routledge, 2014), http://books.google.com/books?id=GCyDBAAAQBAJ&pg=PT90&lpg=PT90&dq=mussolini+ovra&source=bl&ots=VevTl8pne8&sig=UZFsLzO2zGc4a-QQdvg_YQ71fFA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=sL5YVNmPLYfasASStYDACw&ved=0CFAQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=mussolini%20ovra&f=false.

[3] “Revelations from the Russian Archives: Secret Police,” Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/secr.html.

[4] “SS Police,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007675.

[5] Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “The FBI Walks a Perilous Line Between Surveillance and Outright Spying,” The Huffington Post (Aug. 18, 2013), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/earl-ofari-hutchinson/the-fbi-walks-a-perilous-_b_3447225.html.

[6] William Norman Grigg, “The FBI: An American Cheka,” Lew Rockwell (June 4, 2013), http://www.lewrockwell.com/2013/06/william-norman-grigg/the-american-secret-police/.

[7] Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, “Undercover sting: FBI agents posed as Internet repairmen,” CNN (Oct. 30, 2014), http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/30/us/fbi-sting-internet/.

[8] Brad Heath, “Exclusive: FBI allowed informants to commit 5,600 crimes,” USA Today (Aug. 4, 2013), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/04/fbi-informant-crimes-report/2613305/.

[9] Brad Heath, “Exclusive: FBI allowed informants to commit 5,600 crimes,” USA Today (Aug. 4, 2013), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/08/04/fbi-informant-crimes-report/2613305/.

[10] Paul Harris, “Fake terror plots, paid informants: the tactics of FBI ‘entrapment’ questioned,” The Guardian (Nov. 16, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/16/fbi-entrapment-fake-terror-plots.

[11] Peter Hermann, “Probe of FBI agent leads to release of convicted drug dealers from prison,” The Washington Post (Oct. 31, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/probe-of-fbi-agent-leads-to-convicted-drug-dealers-released-from-prison/2014/10/31/48e7b1e6-6064-11e4-9f3a-7e28799e0549_story.html.

[12] Karen Kaiser, “Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder,” Associated Press (Oct. 30, 2014), https://corpcommap.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/letter_103014.pdf.

[13] Karen Kaiser, “Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder,” Associated Press (Oct. 30, 2014), https://corpcommap.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/letter_103014.pdf.

[14] Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “The FBI Walks a Perilous Line Between Surveillance and Outright Spying,” The Huffington Post (Aug. 18, 2013), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/earl-ofari-hutchinson/the-fbi-walks-a-perilous-_b_3447225.html.

[15] Paul Harris, “Fake terror plots, paid informants: the tactics of FBI ‘entrapment’ questioned,” The Guardian (Nov. 16, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/16/fbi-entrapment-fake-terror-plots.

[16] “FBI ‘secretly spying’ on Google users, company reveals,” FOX News (March 6, 2013), http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/03/06/fbi-ecretly-spying-on-google-users-company-reveals/.

[17] “Judge rules secret FBI national security letters unconstitutional,” FOX News (March 16, 2013), http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/03/16/judge-rules-secret-fbi-letters-unconstitutional/.

[18] Ryan Gallagher, “FBI Files Reveal New Info on Clandestine Phone Surveillance Unit,” Slate (Oct. 8, 2013), http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/10/08/fbi_wireless_intercept_and_tracking_team_files_reveal_new_information_on.html.

[19] Kim Zetter, “Secrets of FBI Smartphone Surveillance Tool Revealed in Court Fight,” Wired (April 9, 2013), http://www.wired.com/2013/04/verizon-rigmaiden-aircard/all/.

[20] Brett Wilkins, “FBI Seeking New Invasive Global Hacking Powers,” Ethics in Tech (Nov. 1, 2014), https://www.ethicsintech.com/fbi-seeking-invasive-global-hacking-powers/.

[21] Brett Wilkins, “FBI Seeking New Invasive Global Hacking Powers,” Ethics in Tech (Nov. 1, 2014), https://www.ethicsintech.com/fbi-seeking-invasive-global-hacking-powers/.

[22] Ravi Mandalia, “FBI chief lashes out at Apple, Google over default cell-phone encryption,” TechieNews (Sept. 28, 2014), http://www.techienews.co.uk/9718566/fbi-chief-lashes-apple-google-default-cell-phone-encryption/.

[23] Ravi Mandalia, “FBI chief lashes out at Apple, Google over default cell-phone encryption,” TechieNews (Sept. 28, 2014), http://www.techienews.co.uk/9718566/fbi-chief-lashes-apple-google-default-cell-phone-encryption/.

[24] Anthony S. Summers, “The secret life of J Edgar Hoover,” The Guardian (Dec. 31, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jan/01/j-edgar-hoover-secret-fbi.

[25] Robert L. Mitchell, “Gotcha! FBI launches new biometric systems to nail criminals,” Computerworld (Dec. 19, 2013), http://www.computerworld.com/article/2486963/security0/gotcha-fbi-launches-new-biometric-systems-to-nail-criminals.html.

[26] Paul Rincon, “FBI’s DNA database upgrade plans come under fire,” BBC News (Oct. 17, 2011), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15311718.

[27] Amanda Carey, “FBI opens ‘The Vault,’ UFOs, Jimi Hendrix and Malcolm X fly out,” Daily Caller (April 8, 2011), http://dailycaller.com/2011/04/08/fbi-opens-the-vault-ufos-jimi-hendrix-and-malcolm-x-fly-out/.

[28] Anthony S. Summers, “The secret life of J Edgar Hoover,” The Guardian (Dec. 31, 2011), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jan/01/j-edgar-hoover-secret-fbi.

[29] Adam Cohen, “While Nixon Campaigned, the F.B.I. Watched John Lennon,” New York Times (Sept. 21, 2006), http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/21/opinion/21thu4.html?_r=0.

[30] Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press, 2001), http://books.google.com/books?id=jCiGWtxyQv0C&pg=PT95&lpg=PT95&dq=gellately+edmund+coffey&source=bl&ots=G4JHwvD5AU&sig=WkXKIkL5Ip-oJ05H_15XA3CIWww&hl=en&sa=X&ei=NOlYVJT-H8GRsQSjk4HYDQ&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=gellately%20edmund%20coffey&f=false.

[31] Eric Lichtblau, “In Cold War, U.S. Spy Agencies Used 1,000 Nazis,” New York Times (Oct. 26, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/us/in-cold-war-us-spy-agencies-used-1000-nazis.html.

[32] John W. Whitehead, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (SelectBooks, 2013), http://www.amazon.com/Government-Wolves-Emerging-American-Police/dp/1590799755/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top.

“You gotta remember, establishment, it’s just a name for evil. The monster doesn’t care whether it kills all the students or whether there’s a revolution. It’s not thinking logically, it’s out of control.”—John Lennon (1969)

It’s been 50 years since the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—first landed in America on Feb. 7, 1964, and the news media is awash with nostalgic tributes to the band that “changed everything.” The Grammys will be saluting the Beatles with a 2-hour star-studded tribute. JFK Airport plans to dedicate a historical marker to commemorate the moment the four lads from Liverpool arrived on a Pan Am flight, to be greeted by hordes of screaming fans. And all across the country, including in New York City, conferences, tribute band performances, and reenactments will pay homage to Beatlemania and their music.

While there is much to celebrate about the Beatles coming to America, there is also much to regret, starting with the fact that while we may remember the music of the Beatles, we’ve lost sight of the hope for change and revolutionary spirit that were hallmarks of those days. Indeed, the Beatles opened the floodgates of music with their riveting Feb. 9 performance on the Ed Sullivan Show which was televised to 72 million Americans in what has been dubbed “the night that changed America.” Beatlemania, in turn, helped fuel a social, cultural and political revolution that took aim at everything from war, capitalism and racism to women’s rights, militarization and equality.

Fifty years later, while we may be inundated with a glut of music that passes for art and artists that pass for activists, with no shortage of national problems plaguing us (police abuse, endless wars, government corruption, government surveillance, inequality, etc.), we are sorely lacking individuals with the kind of radicalism and willingness to challenge the status quo. This is the difference between Then and Now, between an America that was ripe for the Beatles’ music andtheir message of change and an America that is celebrating the Beatles’ music while oblivious to their radicalism.

“The Beatles were like aliens dropped into the United States of 1964,” reports Todd Leopold for CNN. Leopold continues:

Kennedy’s assassination 10 weeks earlier had left a gloom on the land. Together, the two events created a dividing line between Then and Now. “A lot of people don’t understand why (Sullivan) was a seminal moment in the history of America and, for that matter, the history of the world,” former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recalled in a recent speech. “The country had just gone through a very painful time of mourning. … There was an extraordinary amount of despair, heartbreak, disappointment,” he continued. “I think people forget that we were still grieving as a nation. The Beatles brought something to America more than music. They brought hope.”

The Beatles converged with their era—the Sixties generation—in an almost unprecedented way. At no other time in history, or since, has a generation been so connected. The vehicle was rock music. And the Beatles helped create an aural culture. As Randy Lewis notes for the Los Angeles Times:

If they were relatively friendly revolutionaries, with their pressed suits and bemused grins and professional politesse and their malt-shop lyrics, they were revolutionaries nonetheless… Now that everything is at our fingertips, a swipe or click away at any moment anywhere, it is hard to conceive of the effect they once had. The revolution had actually been televised then… Self-contained and self-directed — notwithstanding the guidance of manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin, who were collaborators and not directors — the Beatles were something new and in no hurry to leave or conform. Other new things followed through doors they helped open. For better or worse, for a while, the world grew young.

The burgeoning baby boomers’ fascination with music brought the sixties generation into a collective whole. “Perhaps the most important aspect of the Beatles’ attraction during that influential era,” writes author Steven Stark, “was their collective synergy.” In other words, the Beatles popularized the sanctity of “the group,” amazingly so in a time when the traditional family was beginning to disintegrate. With the Beatles, the whole was always greater than the sum of the parts. This gave them a dazzling appeal.

Unlike artists before them, the Beatles had power over millions of people worldwide. In 1967, for example, with the release of their Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album, as one critic noted, it was the closest Europe had been to unification since the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Most thought North America could have been included as well. And the Beatles became the embodiment of the Summer of Love with their live global BBC television broadcast of “All You Need Is Love” in June 1967. Approximately 400 million people across five continents tuned in. This type of power was something new. Previously, only popes, kings and perhaps a few intellectuals could hope to wield such influence in their lifetime.

Some have even argued that the Beatles’ influence helped bring down the Iron Curtain. As Yuri Pelyoshonok, a Soviet Studies professor, says:

The Soviet authorities thought of the Beatles as a secret Cold War weapon. The kids lost their interest in all Soviet unshakable dogmas and ideals, and stopped thinking of an English-speaking person as the enemy. That’s when the Communists lost two generations of young people ideologically, totally lost. That was an incredible impact.

Following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, the optimism of the Summer of Love quickly evaporated and young people revolted worldwide. In the U.S., the cataclysm came as 10,000 demonstrators descended on the Democratic Party’s national convention in August. Police reacted by brutally beating rock-throwing demonstrators as well as passersby, journalists and volunteers. Violence and revolt were now in vogue.

The Beatles, the most influential pop voice of the time, responded to this shift towards violence with “Revolution,” the first Beatles song with an explicitly political statement. As “Revolution” stresses, it was not a movement about physically overthrowing a regime. It was a spiritual revolution, one aimed at overthrowing preconceived notions. Thus, before you can effect a lasting change, as John Lennon sings, you have to “free your mind.” As John Lennon sings in his masterpiece on the need for nonviolent change, “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out?”

The underground press–which at the time included such newspapers as the Village Voice–immediately criticized the song and Lennon for not urging outright rebellion against authority. Lennon was quick to point out that if they really wanted a revolution, it had to begin with changing the way people think: “I’m not only up against the establishment but you too. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with the world: people–so do you want to destroy them? Until you/we change our heads–there’s no choice.”

It didn’t take long for Lennon, the activist of the group, to recognize that he could use his celebrity status to not only communicate his own ideas about the world but change the way people thought about issues of the day. He subsequently began his quest for worldwide peace. In fact, it may be that Lennon was the last great iconic anti-war activist of our age. Indeed, by October 1969, Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” had become a universal chant at anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. On November 15, during a peace rally in Washington, DC, the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger led nearly half a million demonstrators in singing “Give Peace a Chance” at the Washington Monument.

Unlike the other members of the Beatles, who are largely remembered for their music, Lennon’s political activism soon became a hallmark of the man himself. As Time magazine contributor Martin Lewis recognizes, “Of all Lennon’s legacies, one of the most enduring, and perhaps the most impressive, is who his enemies were. The true measure of his greatness was that in the 1970s he terrified the most powerful man in the world.” Lewis, of course, is referring to Richard Nixon, who became a determined enemy of Lennon.

Of all the Beatles, it may be Lennon’s activism which speaks most to the concerns of our present day and the ever-growing menace of the police state. In fact, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, Lennon, enemy number one in the eyes of the U.S. government, was targeted for surveillance by the FBI (most likely in conjunction with the NSA).

Fearing Lennon might incite antiwar protests, the Nixon administration directed the FBI to keep close tabs on the ex-Beatle, resulting in close to 400 pages of files on his activities during the early 1970s. But the government’s actions didn’t stop with mere surveillance. The agency went so far as to attempt to have Lennon deported on drug charges. As professor Jon Wiener, a historian who sued the federal government to have the files on Lennon made public, observed, “This is really the story of F.B.I. misconduct, of the President using the F.B.I. to get his enemies, to use federal agencies to suppress dissent and to silence critics.”

Fifty years after America first fell in love with Lennon and his mop-top comrades, the Beatles’ legacy lives on—at least, their musical legacy lives on.

Yet while the Beatles’ greatest legacy was in effecting a revolution of spirit and mind, today we’re in dire need of revolutionaries willing to challenge the status quo.

The world could use another revolution, don’t you think? — John W. Whitehead

Marine veteran Brandon Raub is not the first veteran to be targeted for speaking out against the government. However, his case exposed the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting military veterans for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state. Hopefully, by holding officials accountable, we can ensure that Brandon is the last to suffer in this way.

That’s why attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have just filed a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement and other government officials on behalf of   Raub. Last August, Raub was arrested by a swarm of FBI, Secret Service agents and local police and forcibly detained in a psychiatric ward for a week because of controversial song lyrics and political views posted on his Facebook page. The complaint, filed in federal court in Richmond, alleges that Raub’s seizure and detention were the result of a federal government program code-named “Operation Vigilant Eagle” that involves the systematic surveillance of military veterans who express views critical of the government. Institute attorneys allege that the attempt to label Raub as “mentally ill” and his involuntary commitment was a pretext designed to silence Raub’s speech critical of the government and that the defendants violated Raub’s rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

Since coming to Raub’s defense, The Rutherford Institute has been contacted by military veterans across the country recounting similar incidents. In filing a civil suit against government officials, Rutherford Institute attorneys plan to take issue with the manner in which Virginia’s civil commitment statutes are being used to silence individuals engaged in lawfully exercising their free speech rights.

On Aug.16, 2012, Chesterfield police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Brandon Raub’s home, asking to speak with him about his Facebook posts. Like many Facebook users, Raub, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, uses his Facebook page to post song lyrics and air his political opinions. Without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, law enforcement officials handcuffed Raub and transported him to police headquarters, then to John Randolph Medical Center, where he was held against his will. In a hearing on Aug. 20, government officials pointed to Raub’s Facebook posts as the reason for his incarceration. While Raub stated that the Facebook posts were being read out of context, a Special Justice ordered Raub be held up to 30 more days for psychological evaluation and treatment.

In coming to Raub’s aid, Institute attorneys challenged the government’s actions as procedurally improper, legally unjustified, and in violation of Raub’s First Amendment rights. On Aug. 23, Circuit Court Judge Allan Sharrett ordered Raub’s immediate release, stating that the government’s case was “so devoid of any factual allegations that it could not be reasonably expected to give rise to a case or controversy.” In asking the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to acknowledge the harm done to Raub and to rectify the violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Institute attorneys are requesting that Raub be awarded damages for the harm caused by the deprivation of his constitutional rights.

To support the Institute’s efforts on this and other cases, donate online at https://www.rutherford.org/donate/.

“If you’re not a terrorist, if you’re not a threat, prove it. This is the price you pay to live in free society right now. It’s just the way it is.”—Sergeant Ed Mullins of the New York Police Department

Immediately following the devastating 9/11 attacks, which destroyed the illusion of invulnerability which had defined American society since the end of the Cold War, many Americans willingly ceded their rights and liberties to government officials who promised them that the feeling of absolute safety could be restored.

In the 12 years since, we have been subjected to a series of deceptions, subterfuges and scare tactics by the government, all largely aimed at amassing more power for the federal agencies and extending their control over the populace. Starting with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, continuing with the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and coming to a head with the assassination of American citizens abroad, the importing of drones and other weapons of compliance, and the rise in domestic surveillance, we have witnessed the onslaught of a full-blown crisis in government.

Still Americans have gone along with these assaults on their freedoms unquestioningly.

Even with our freedoms in shambles, our country in debt, our so-called “justice” system weighted in favor of corporations and the police state, our government officials dancing to the tune of corporate oligarchs, and a growing intolerance on the part of the government for anyone who challenges the status quo, Americans have yet to say “enough is enough.”

Now, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, we are once again being assured that if we only give up a few more liberties and what little remains of our privacy, we will achieve that elusive sense of security we’ve yet to attain. This is the same song and dance that comes after every tragedy, and it’s that same song and dance which has left us buying into the illusion that we are a free, safe society.

The reality of life in America tells a different tale, however. For example, in a May 2013 interview with CNN, former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente disclosed that the federal government is keeping track of all digital communications that occur within the United States, whether or not those communicating are American citizens, and whether or not they have a warrant to do so.

As revelatory as the disclosure was, it caused barely a ripple of dismay among Americans, easily distracted by the torrent of what passes for entertainment news today. Yet it confirms what has become increasingly apparent in the years after 9/11: the federal government is literally tracking any and all communications occurring within the United States, without concern for the legal limitations of such activity, and without informing the American people that they are doing so.

Clemente dropped his bombshell during a CNN interview about authorities’ attempts to determine the nature of communications between deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his widow Katherine Russell. In the course of that conversation, Clemente revealed that federal officials will not only be able to access any voicemails that may have been left by either party, but that the entirety of the phone conversations they had will be at federal agents’ finger tips.

“We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation,” stated Clemente. “All of that stuff [meaning phone conversations occurring in America] is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.” A few days later, Clemente was asked to clarify his comments, at which point he said, “There is a way to look at all digital communications in the past. No digital communication is secure.”

In other words, there is no form of digital communication that the government cannot and does not monitor—phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, internet video chats, etc., are all accessible, trackable and downloadable by federal agents.

At one time, such actions by the government would not only have been viewed as unacceptable, they would also have been considered illegal. However, government officials have been engaged in an ongoing attempt to legitimize these actions by passing laws that make the lives of all Americans an open book for government agents. For example, while the nation was caught up in the drama of the Boston bombing and the ensuing military-style occupation of the city by local and federal police, Congress passed a little-noticed piece of legislation known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The legislation, which the House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming margin of 288-127, will allow internet companies to share their users’ private data with the federal government and other private companies in order to combat so-called “cyber threats.”

In short, the law dismantles any notion of privacy on the internet, opening every action one undertakes online, whether emailing, shopping, banking, or just browsing, to scrutiny by government agents. While CISPA has yet to clear the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the spirit of it is alive and well. In fact, officials in the Obama administration have for some time now been authorizing corporate information sharing and spying in secret through the use of executive orders and other tactics.

The Justice Department, for instance, has been issuing so-called “2511 letters” to various internet service providers like AT&T, which immunize them from being prosecuted under federal wiretapping laws for providing the federal government with private information. Despite federal court rulings to the contrary, the Department of Justice continues to assert that it does not require a warrant to access Americans’ emails, Facebook chats, and other forms of digital communication.

NSA Surveillance Octopus

While it may be tempting to lay the full blame for these erosions of our privacy on the Obama administration, they are simply continuing a system of mass surveillance, the seeds of which were planted in the weeks after 9/11, when the National Security Agency (NSA) began illegally tracking the communications of American citizens. According to a Washington Post article published in 2010, the NSA continues to collect 1.7 billion communications, whether telephone, email or otherwise, every single day.

The NSA and Department of Justice are just two pieces of a vast surveillance network which encompasses and implicates most of the federal government, as well as the majority of technology and telecommunications companies in the United States. For the past two years, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved literally every single request by the federal government to spy on people within the United States. There have been some 4,000 applications rubberstamped by the court in the past two years, applications which allow federal officials to monitor the communications of any person in the United States, including American citizens, if they are believed to be in contact with someone overseas.

These government-initiated spying programs depend in large part on the willingness of corporations to hand over personal information about their customers to government officials. Sometimes the government purchases the information outright. At other times, the government issues National Security Letters, which allow the government to force companies to hand over personal information without a warrant or probable cause.

Some web companies, such as Skype, have already altered their products to allow government access to personal information. In fact, government agents can now determine the credit card information and addresses of Skype users under suspicion of criminal activity. Aside from allowing government agents backdoor access to American communications, corporations are also working on technologies to allow government agents even easier access to Americans’ communications.

For example, Google has filed a patent for a “Policy Violation Checker,” software which would monitor an individual’s communications as they type them out, whether in an email, an Excel spreadsheet or some other digital document, then alert the individual, and potentially their employer or a government agent, if they type any “problematic phrases” which “present policy violations, have legal implications, or are otherwise troublesome to a company, business, or individual.” The software would work by comparing the text being typed to a pre-defined database of “problematic phrases,” which would presumably be defined on a company-by-company basis.

The emergence of this technology fits in well with Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s view on privacy, which is that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Unfortunately, this is not just the attitude of corporate benefactors who stand to profit from creating spy technology and software but government officials as well.

Additionally, police officials throughout the country have become increasingly keen on monitoring social media websites in real time. Rob D’Ovido, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University, has noted that, “The danger of this in light of the tragedy in Boston is that law enforcement is being so risk-averse they are in danger of crossing that line and going after what courts would ultimately deem as free speech.”

Cameron Dambrosio

For example, Cameron Dambrosio, a teenager and self-styled rap artist living in Metheun, Massachusetts, posted a video of one of his original songs on the internet which included references to the White House and the Boston bombing. While the song’s lyrics may well have been crude and ill-advised in the wake of the Boston bombing, police officers exacerbated the situation by arresting Dambrosio and charging him with communicating terrorist threats, a felony charge which could land him in prison for twenty years.

Unfortunately, cases like Dambrosio’s may soon become the norm, as the FBI’s Next Generation Cyber Initiative has announced that its “top legislative priority” this year is to get social media giants like Facebook and Google to comply with requests for access to real-time updates of social media websites. The proposed method of encouraging compliance is legal inquiries and hefty fines leveled at these companies. The Obama administration is expected to support the proposal.

The reality is this:  we no longer live in a free society. Having traded our freedoms for a phantom promise of security, we now find ourselves imprisoned in a virtual cage of cameras, wiretaps and watchful government eyes. All the while, the world around us is no safer than when we started on this journey more than a decade ago. Indeed, it well may be that we are living in a far more dangerous world, not so much because the terrorist threat is any greater but because the government itself has become the greater threat to our freedoms. — John W. Whitehead