Everyone in this country is under some form of surveillance. Whether it is the NSA or Facebook, we are all being watched. Yet, we are still surprised at new examples of “Big Brother” watching over us. Recently, it made the news that the Customs and Border Patrol had assembled a list of 59 reporters, attorneys and activists who were to be stopped for “questioning” at certain checkpoints. The NBC station KNSD-TV interviewed many of the subjects on the list, and were surprised to hear their responses.
Multiple respondents said they were being interviewed as part of a “national security investigation.” One subject, lawyer Nicole Ramos, found out the CBP had compiled a dossier on her. The file included pictures of her mother, social media pictures, her vehicle and her work and travel history. CBP has said the list is related to the November 2018 Tijuana border incident that ended in violence. The CBP are investigating these subjects because they believe that some were “organizers” or “instigators” of the migrant caravan involved in the conflict.
This “border list” is just another example of America’s long history of domestic surveillance programs that target political “dissidents.” The Department of Homeland Security was caught gathering and monitoring the “public activities of media professionals and influencers.” The DHS planned to monitor more than 290,000 global news sources specifically to “identify any and all media coverage related to the Department of Homeland Security or a particular event.” Information including contact info, publication details and previous coverage was to be entered into the DHS’s database.
Another famous surveiller of political dissidents was Richard Nixon. Nixon’s Administration devised the “Huston Plan,” a secret initiative that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to commit “break-ins, domestic surveillance and surreptitious entries.” This plan was unearthed during the Watergate hearings and was believed to be a policy never implemented by the administration. However, many of the documents related to the program are classified, leading some historians to believe the operation was active.
Nixon was also famous for expanding one of the largest domestic surveillance programs, Operation Chaos. Operation Chaos was first created in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson to investigate civil unrest and racial violence. Johnson used the CIA for this domestic surveillance program, an act that breached the agency’s charter. The CIA is only allowed to operate on foreign soil, unless a U.S. citizen is involved in espionage or terrorist activities. Nixon took over the program in 1969, attempting to find proof of foreign influence in America’s dissident movements, specifically those affiliated with the “New Left.” Agents were dispatched to college campuses and told to infiltrate various left wing student groups.
Agents created a database of over 300,000 names, with 7,200 of them getting 201 files, deeply personal profiles that include: place of birth, family history and organization affiliations. Agents even went so far as to illegally intercept mail for evidence of Soviet communication. Operation Chaos was finally shut down for good in 1974.
However, the most heinous domestic surveillance program in American history was enacted by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The “Counterintelligence Program,” or COINTELPRO, was created in 1956 to investigate radical political groups and determine whether they were involved with foreign enemies, such as the Soviets, Chinese, Cubans, etc. The FBI used wiretapping, sabotage, burglary and other illegal actions to destroy the lives of perceived political radicals. Civil rights groups were heavily targeted by COINTELPRO. FBI documents actually mention that one of the main directives of the program was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalists.”
The U.S. has always had a history of hypocrisy, and these domestic surveillance programs prove it. The fourth amendment states that it is our right to be safe and secure in our persons and houses and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Yet, you will be stripped of this right whenever you are deemed to be a “radical” or political “dissident.” The government seems to be above their own laws, yet expects us to follow them. It disgusts me that the burglars that uncovered COINTELPRO faced the threat of jail time, yet J. Edgar Hoover died a free man. We live in a country devoid of privacy and freedom, but permeated by government scrutiny and political repression. In the words of famous political dissident Edward Snowden, “under observation we act less free, which means we are effectively less free.”