Hello, Mom. Hello, FBI. Hello, NSA

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A
Familiar Abuse of Federal Power

I know
a few things about secret, illegal wiretaps. To begin with,
they don't stay secret. Second, George Bush should have read
the articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon before authorizing
the illegal snooping on American citizens.

The second
article of impeachment against Nixon cites his use of electronic
surveillance for illegal purposes as grounds to remove him from
office. The revelations of Nixon's sneaky snooping were the
final blow that ended his criminal presidency.

But back
to my memoirs. In 1968, a few months after MLK's assassination,
Gainesville, Fla., was a police state, especially in the black
community. Generally thought of as an oasis of reason in a sea
of racism because of the presence of the University of Florida,
Gainesville actually differed little from much of the then still
u201Csegregation foreveru201D South.

Civil Rights
activist Jack Dawkins arrived in Gainesville in 1967, and he
mobilized the black community after two girls were molested
while in police custody. A grand jury whitewashed the police.
At the behest of the Gainesville Sun, Dawkins' newspaper, Black
Voices, was declared by a local judge to be a u201Cclear and present
danger to the administration of justice.u201D Dawkins was held without
bail. Famed Civil Rights attorney William Kunstler charged to
the defense of the activist, and a federal appellate court strongly
admonished the Gainesville judge, J.C. Adkins.

Disturbances
hit the Gainesville ghettoes. Adkins, who later became a Florida
Supreme Court justice, let the whole world know just how the
Gainesville power structure felt during a press conference:
u201CThis isn't the Negroes who did this. It was those white beatniks
who support Black Power. If I ever get my hands on them, I hope
they get to the court without a lynching.u201D

The message
was pretty clear: Blacks were incapable of acting without whites
telling them what to do, and lynching u201Cbeatniksu201D was sanctioned
by the Florida judiciary.

Dawkins
disappeared. u201CWe all knew that the cops would find an excuse
to kill him,u201D Marshall Jones, a distinguished psychology professor
who was denied tenure at UF because he supported civil rights,
told me. Dawkins has never reappeared.

ENTER JOHN
SUGG, then a 22-year-old, fresh-from-the-Navy Gator. What I'd
learned about Vietnam in the Navy had made me vigorously anti-war,
and I eventually helped lead various veteran and student groups
opposed to the conflict.

The antiwar
and civil rights groups suspected that we were being spied upon
and wiretapped. My girlfriend, a UF librarian, obtained her
personnel file for an insurance claim — and found more than
two dozen photographs of me haranguing crowds, as well as several
surveillance memos that made it clear we been u201Cinfiltrated.u201D
Court cases would reveal that the spies were the only people
advocating violence. We tried an experiment. We got on the phones
and breathlessly told each other that Dawkins was returning
to Gainesville. We were to meet him at a Winn-Dixie parking
lot in the middle of the night. We buzzed it up on the phones
with tons of details, alluding to secret communications channels
with Dawkins.

We, of
course, had no idea where Dawkins was u2014 even if he was still
alive or had been murdered in the spirit of Judge Adkins dictum.
But we did know where throngs of federal and local cops would
be on the night in question, and we were right. We got the drop
on the federal agents staking out the Winn-Dixie, and photographed
them waiting to collar (or kill) Dawkins.

More important,
as would come out in several cases u2014 most notably the u201CGainesville
8,u201D a trial of Vietnam vets accused (and found innocent) of
plotting terrorist attacks at the 1972 Republican National Convention
— the government never had any evidence against activists nor
did it have any legal justification for many violations of constitutional
rights. In one instance, it was revealed that federal intelligence
officers held a child hostage to force the babe's prostitute
mother to swear to outlandish tales of sex and drug orgies among
anti-war activists.

Fast forward
to circa now. George Bush's assault on civil liberties, the
gloriously misnamed PATRIOT Act, was drafted before 9/11. It
was sitting there … waiting. The cry from the Bushies is that
they need better intelligence (and, yes, we all agree that that's
true by one definition of intelligence). We know that Bush was
warned, weeks before 9/11, of very specific plans by Osama bin
Laden to attack American targets with hijacked planes — and
our government did little (other than John Ashcroft stopped
flying commercial flights). Lack of intelligence wasn't the
cause of 9/11.

We also
know that all of the thousands detained u2014 probably unconstitutionally
u2014 after 9/11 have revealed few real threats to America. The
government has had little success in terrorism prosecutions
u2014 especially compared to the numbers detained. The most recent
government debacle was the failed prosecution of Tampa academic
Sami Al-Arian, after a decade of investigations.

We know
that when the Bush administration came out last May with an
assessment of terrorist threats, it wasn't murderous groups
such as right-wing militias, anti-abortion extremists and other
haters that interested the feds. Rather, the u201Cthreatsu201D were
environmental and animal rights groups, which despite vandalism
have never killed anyone.

In December,
the New York Times reported: u201CThe Federal Bureau of Investigation
(has) conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering
operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active
in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and
poverty relief. … u201D Gotta keep an eye on terrorist poverty fighters.

THE BUSH
PSYCHOLOGY is to keep the public in a constant state of fear.
Logic and liberty die in such an environment. We are far more
safe today, even with Bush's mismanagement of the nation, than
when we faced Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the nuclear-armed
Soviets. Yet, Bush contends that as a u201Cwar president,u201D his power
should be unlimited. Thus, he can sign a law agreeing not to
torture people, and then immediately sign a declaration that
he is not bound by that law.

The power
to wiretap and monitor U.S. citizens is constitutionally anathema.
But, more important, this isn't a power whose real mission is
nabbing terrorists. The targets of the abuse are Americans —
who must fear that their phones are bugged, their emails read,
their list of library books turned over to agents, their bank
accounts sifted.

That experience
of mine I mentioned: An FBI agent called me two years ago with
a not-too-subtle threat to reveal wiretaps of me talking to
Al-Arian. The agent, Kerry Myers of Tampa, was attempting to
get me to snitch on federal law enforcement sources who had
confided in me.

A jury
last month refused to convict Al-Arian of any crime, despite
the government having listened in to almost 500,000 conversations.
Defense lawyers are now charging that many of those wiretaps
were conducted under Bush's illegal — and no longer secret —
scheme. Bush's penalty for the illegal program could be — should
be — Nixon's fate, impeachment.

The government's
goal is control. A docile population, whose anxieties are jacked
up by the strident mendacities on Fox News, is prepped to believe
even the most outlandish claims of Big Brother. And if you disagree
and dissent, be careful of what you say on the phone.

January
27, 2006

John
Sugg [send him mail]
is senior editor of Atlanta
Creative Loafing
. Visit his
blog
.

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