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:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail