American STASI

I’ve been traveling with Monica and another friend for several weeks on a gambling trip in Europe. Monica escaped communist Poland via a work visa to Sweden. She’s fluent in English but won’t talk to me. She tells me it’s because I don’t drink.

In Communist Poland, booze is the first line of defense against the Secret Police. “If they drink on duty, they might slip and reveal their ‘secret identity’,” Monica tells me.

We have a drink and everything’s cool.

It isn’t just in the movies. It really was standard operating procedure in the Soviet Block for the secret police to spy on everyone. The excuse was “national security” of course.

The East German STASI were, hands down, the world champs. Voluntarily or otherwise, about one in five East Germans spied on themselves and each other for the STASI. Which kept meticulous records.

And so the STASI had “leverage” on just about everyone. That is, they could take almost any citizen aside and tell them, “We know what you did last Summer. And Fall. In fact, last week with your secretary in room 23 at The Plaza. And if you want to keep your wife in the dark, we want you to [FILL_IN_THE_BLANK].”

And of course, there was much heavier “leverage” if someone broke one of the laws, rules, regulations, orders or controls — which was unavoidable because there were so many, they were so nebulous — and thus enforcement was so subjective. This gave even street-level enforcers unprecedented “leverage” over just about everyone.

Political leaders were especially popular targets. So the STASI essentially ran East Germany by blackmail. Sort of like the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover — but on steroids.

The effects of such pervasive surveillance are subtle until you realize what you’re seeing. When I was first in Poland — before the Berlin Wall came down, marking the end of the Soviet Union — folks tended to walk just slightly hunched over with their shoulders sort of scrunched together. Every once in a while, a furtive over-the-shoulder glance.

It was almost as if each person felt they were constantly being watched. I’ve sometimes had Griffin agents on my trail, so this was easy for me to understand. At first, I had to fight a tendency to see who was watching. Then I remembered Monica, booze — and the secret police.

But the Polish Secret Police — heck, even the STASI — were extremely handicapped compared to today. The folks they were “leveraging” didn’t have cell phones for the STASI to record 24/7. Or as many laws, rules, regulations, orders, and controls “governing” their victims.

Here in the freest country in the world, both problems have been thoroughly solved. There are so many new laws, even Congress doesn’t know how many it passed. There are about one million restrictions in The Code of Federal Regulations alone.

And more laws are passed every year. A lot more laws. For an approximation, ~40,000 new state laws took effect just at the beginning of 2012.

There are so many, according to Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate, you unknowingly commit three felonies a day.

And remember, as we’ve been conditioned to believe, “ignorance of the law is no excuse” – – – even when there are millions of them.

And, despite the lies Unkle Sam tells you, it should be no surprise the misnamed anti-terror laws can’t and won’t protect you from terrorist attacks. In fact, Unkle’s murderous strategy and tactics create more terrorists.

So, as ACLU head and NYU law prof. Nadine Strossen pointed out a long time ago, the surveillance laws related to so-called “national security are, just as they were in East Germany, a scam and excuse to empower the American STASI. Like this – – –

“There is no connection between the Sept. 11 attacks and what is in this legislation [the so-called ‘USA Patriot Act’]. Most of the provisions relate not just to terrorist crimes but to criminal activity generally. This happened, too, with the 1996 antiterrorism legislation where most of the surveillance laws have been used for drug enforcement, gambling, and prostitution.”–Police State, Kelly Patricia O’Meara, Insight Magazine

That was in 2001. While stats on gambling and prostitution are harder to come by, ten years later and true to form, the USA Patriot Act was used in 1,618 drug cases but only 15 “terrorist” cases. So, with stats that might shock even Ms. Strossen, more than 99% of Patriot Act actions — including most of the $52.6 billion/year black-budget spy programs — are used against citizens, not against so-called “terrorists.”

And, tapping everyone’s cell phone, land-line, internet, etc. as it does, the American STASI doesn’t have to manage all those snitches. Instead, by spooking your device, they just record your conversations, who you’re talking to, how long and when. Not to mention where you are most of the time.

Risking his freedom and maybe his life — but defended by Ex President Jimmy Carter — courageous whistle-blower Edward Snowden summed things up this way:

“Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with.” –Snowden: Leak of NSA spy programs “marks my end” – CBS News

So, one way or another, mostly unknowingly, you confess to all sorts of things. Maybe your device (GPS, hotel receipts, etc.) “knows” you were in room 23 of the Plaza last week. And your secretary’s phone “knows” she was there too. And therefore, so does the American STASI.

And remember how the FBI made Martin Luther King Jr.’s home life a living hell by revealing his indiscretions to his wife. And Hoover’s bulked-up ghost is flexing here and now: General David Petraeus was forced to resign as CIA chief — by leaked information about an affair with a writer.

And don’t forget about your three felonies a day.

As the Washington Post explains, the NSA is giving your phone records to the DEA etc. And, since that’s illegal, the DEA, IRS, etc. are all covering it up.

Even the Navy’s in on it. They routinely spy on citizens then help the police prosecute them.

It gets worse: No one can begin to memorize — let alone understand — even a tiny percentage of all that legalese. Thus, just as in East Germany, enforcement is dependent on the subjective interpretation of each enforcer, making each a law unto him/her self.

This alone gives each enforcer street-level “leverage” over just about anyone. You, for example.

In Vegas, even decades ago, it was common practice for Metro enforcers, rather than busting those suspected of being free-lance sex-workers, to “take it out in trade” in the back seat of the cruiser. Apparently things have gotten worse.

So, when one of Unkle’s “representatives” (or someone who’s spooked Unkle’s poorly protected data bases) takes you aside — or ushers you into the back seat of the cruiser — don’t expect lubricant.

After The Berlin Wall came down, a Polish cop approached us at a street fair in Warsaw. He asked if he could check the trunk of our rented Lada. We said “No,” he ducked his head respectfully, appropriate for a public servant, and went on his way.

And there was a noticable change in Polish posture: No hunching, no scrunched shoulders, no furtive glances. The Polish posture now said, “I’m a free person, as good as anyone, I’m none of your business, F off!”

Now that I think of it, when I was a kid, we used to walk like that. But these days, do I detect a little hunching, scrunching, and even a few furtive glances?

So, keeping those three daily felonies of yours in mind, how do you feel about being thoroughly scrutinized and meticulously recorded by the American STASI? Does it bother you at all?

What’s it going to be like for your kids, grand-kids and the yet unborn?

What are you going to do about it

For updates and corrections, see American STASI — updates & corrections.