Careful when
You text your friend;
Spooks are reading
What you send.

The FBI now employs 36,000 people and focuses ever more on dissenters. The CIA, supposedly prohibited from spying domestically, now stations agents in local police departments. Homeland Security may legally confiscate your computer and smart phone at the airport, copy their contents, and eventually give them back. Civilian agencies have drones to follow you.

And that’s just the beginning.


The FBI can secretly demand your financial records from your accountant, your medical records from your doctor, and your travel routes from your cellphone company. Further, Congress has now ruled that if you’re arrested on some terrorism charge you shall be whisked off to Guantánamo to be tried by the military. Or just left there.

Most Americans, fortunately, aren’t likely prospects for these or similar new Kafkaesque treatments. The chief targets just now are Muslims and liberal activists. U.S. Muslims are under such tight surveillance that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have felt emancipated by comparison.

Furthermore, thousands of peaceful protesters are arrested every year. An increasingly common game is to hold them with hands cuffed behind their backs and no access to rest rooms until they are forced to urinate in their clothes. Cute.

Anti-war protesters are treated as America’s next greatest threat to national security. They’re spied upon, infiltrated, and occasionally detained without charge. It’s as though our political-economic structure would collapse if there were no more wars.

Under a little-known law that itself now faces a legal challenge, the government can also brand activists as “terrorists” if they try to document inhumane and unsanitary conditions at factory farms or laboratories that conduct tests on animals.

Indeed, the shortage of real terrorism in recent years is a challenge for our law enforcers. With no airliners tumbling from the sky or bombs shattering subways, how does one maintain public support for government snooping and airport inconvenience? Especially when the rest of the world is lightening up?

Well, entrapment is one useful trick. You infiltrate mosques and Muslim social clubs until you identify an unstable or hate-filled prospect who speaks of his or her desire to cause destruction. Then you nurse him or her along, providing training and materials as though you were the ghost of Osama bin Laden himself. Next you help create a plan for an explosive extravaganza, and then arrest your suspect very publicly as a terrorist.

The media loves this sort of adventure, but at the same time it keeps pretty mum about government spying overall. That espionage quietly undermines the lives and futures of whistleblowers and other Americans who openly oppose various harmful government/corporate practices.

It would be a comfort to believe that all this domestic surveillance had receded under President Barack Obama. No such luck.

Homeland Security still wants us to snitch on our neighbors and the FBI still conducts illegal wiretaps. Last year, Obama also signed a four-year extension of the dreaded USA Patriot Act. Spying on dissident citizens simply seems to be what governments do, and ours has certainly gotten the hang of it.

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William A. Collins

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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