Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Rob Urie
The Twilight of the Leisure Class
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Andrew Stewart
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
Richard W. Behan
Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Ishmael Reed
Millennialism or Extinctionism?
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
David Yearsley
Bring on the Nibelungen: If Wagner Scored the Debates
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]