FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

COINTELPRO on Steroids

by

This morning I was privileged to read the poet Amjad Nasser’s essay, “When Your Name is on the Blacklist,” describing United States Homeland Security interrogating him for two hours at London Heathrow before banning him from flying to New York to help inaugurate the Gallatin Global Writers series at New York University.  Nasser was to appear at NYU on September 30th.  Only one week earlier I was in New York and participated on a Nelson Mandela Panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival.  I did contemplate, however, as I waited to board my flight from Portland to New York, whether or not I would be allowed to fly.  And while in NYC, it was the urging of Seven Stories publisher, Dan Simon that convinced me to pen an account of my own minor dealings with Homeland Security.

While personally I can chuckle, the attacks of the United States government on personal liberty, both at home and abroad, are surely no laughing matter.  Like Nasser, I made a rather reflective trip to the airport in Portland for a direct flight to Atlanta—the date was August 30th.  While Nasser was pondering Lorca, I was anticipating the first meeting of my first grandchild.  A granddaughter named Lina.  After boarding early the process appeared somewhat skewed as few passengers were actually coming on the plane.  A woman who worked for the airline did come aboard and she asked to view my ticket.  With a sigh of relief, she explained to me that my ticket did not have a code for a further security check.  Moments later,
ruth-first-and-joe-slovo-in-the-war-to-end-apartheidhowever, a woman wearing a TSA uniform approached my seat and again asked to see my ticket.  This time she had me stand-up and she wiped down both the seat and the compartment above where I had placed my carry-on bag.  Finding nothing, she asked me to follow her off the plane at which point, for the first of at least a half-dozen times, I asked her “why?”  The answer was always the same: “I don’t know, sir.”

As we de-boarded the plane two other women from TSA met us.  We walked the gauntlet of at least one hundred and fifty passengers who were clearly impatient to board the plane.  Recognizing one of the passengers, I noted “our tax dollars at work.”  At that point, the three polite women became rather stiff and I again asked why they had taken me off the plane to which the initial officer replied, “I don’t know, sir.”  Also waiting was a man who I can best describe as the commissar—his suit was mustard, brown and two sizes too small.  He didn’t talk to me but he was clearly in charge.

The four TSA agents walked me back to the security area where my bag was re-scanned, emptied, medicine bottles emptied, re-packed and again scanned.  During this time, I asked the two new women why I was pulled off the plane to which they each repeated the script: “I don’t know, sir.”  A second man joined the TSA detail and his job was to thoroughly frisk me.  He was rather polite and asked me whether or not I would like to be checked in a private room.  Swiftly I answered that I would rather be searched in public and that is what happened.  He turned up nothing as did I when I again asked why?  “I don’t know, sir.”

Finally, I saw the commissar nod to the first agent I had met.  She then thanked me and led me back to the plane.  As we stopped at the door, I asked my proverbial question to which she answered, “I don’t know, sir.”

So in Job-like fashion I asked, “Why me?”  Truth is I think that I know the answer and it corresponds to the sickness and absurdity of government surveillance in the United States—we are all fellow travelers.

In 2013, Monthly Review Books published my book Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid.  One of the people who made underground runs into South Africa for the resistance wrote to tell me that I was questioned because I was now connected to Joe—rather a stretch I think.  What isn’t a stretch, however, is the connection to my present work on a book tentatively titled Studs Terkel: Politics, Culture, But Mostly Conversation.  In the six weeks leading up to the Atlanta trip, I had been conducting phone interviews for the book.  Through the kindness of Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher of The Nation, I had conversations with people like Dennis Kucinich, Tom Hayden, Victor Navasky, and John Nichols.  I had also spoken with Tom Engelhardt, Clancy Sigal, Haskell Wexler, Tim Black, Prexy Nesbit, Jules Feiffer, Kathy Kelly, Jesse Lemisch, Patricia Williams, Bernardine Dohrn, and Bill Ayers.

Some of the people that I interviewed, if not all of them, have their communications monitored.  My thinking is that my details appeared too often on too many of their surveillances.  Unlike Nasser, I was not blacklisted but rather graylisted.  And while my problems with TSA were merely an annoyance, they do point to how huge Big Brother has become—COINTELPRO ON STEROIDS is our age.

Alan Wieder is an oral historian who lives in Portland, Oregon. Since 1999 he has worked on oral histories of political resistance in apartheid South Africa. He spent over twenty years on the faculty of the University of South Carolina and has also taught at the University of Western Cape in South Africa. He is the author of Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid.

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail