The Spy Who Taxed Me

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Everyone is
a spy now. The state has always spied on its citizens, but the lens
is turning the other way. For that, we are indebted to Julian Assange,
Wikileaks, and the sources passing along military and diplomatic
documents. This turnabout redresses the balance between government
and public to a small extent, but the state’s resources still
outweigh ours. After all, the state uses our money to spy on us,
and it has longer experience in keeping tabs on us. This vicious
habit dates at least to the Espionage Act of 1917 that Woodrow Wilson
used to watch and prosecute anyone who opposed his war in France’s
trenches.

Did the Espionage
Act, which some politicians and journalists want to use to prosecute
Julian Assange, uncover the Kaiser’s spy network in the United
States? Not exactly. The government used it to incarcerate socialists
Eugene Debs and Kate Richards O’Hare and a film maker named
Robert Goldstein, whose crime was to depict British atrocities against
American colonists in his subversively titled 1917 epic The Spirit
of ’76. Government spying on American citizens went berserk
with the post-war Red Scare and Palmer Raids. It expanded during
World War II and the Cold War, when J. Edgar Hoover dispatched second-story
men to ransack the tiny Socialist Workers Party’s offices,
follow journalists such as I. F. Stone, and plant microphones under
Martin Luther King’s bed. This led, lest we forget, to 1966’s
Freedom of Information Act and ostensible limits on what the Central
Intelligence Agency could do within America’s borders. Thanks
to a loss of trust in government following Watergate, the Church
and Pike Committees allowed the public to learn how domestic-surveillance
programs such as COINTELPRO had violated their constitutional rights.
But such “transparency” wouldn’t last long.

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the rest of the article

December
21, 2010

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