Perhaps you thought that the security at the Atlanta or Newark, or Dallas airports is bad, obnoxious, the worst in the world… Think twice… Of course it all began there, in the United States, from the first glory days of that hypocritical and deranged “War On Terror”: the humiliation of people, especially Arabs, especially Muslims, especially all those who are not white, but eventually everybody, at least to some degree.
But it did not just stay there. The allies joined in almost immediately, and then the ‘client’ states jumped on the bandwagon, competing in tactics and strategies of how most to humiliate those confused and helpless passengers, by censoring internet sites, digging into emails, monitoring mobile phone communications, and relentlessly spying on both citizens and foreigners.
I have travelled all over the world, to some of the most imaginable and unimaginable places. All the while being monitored and harassed, threatened and periodically attacked, even physically, I have also spread many counterpunches: I have observed, recorded, and published, who does what to whom, who is the most diligent, methodical, and ruthless bully?
Unsurprisingly, the toughest surveillance comes from Western allies and ‘client’ states, all over the world – from places that Washington, London and Paris routinely call ‘thriving democracies’.
Countries that have collapsed socially strive to impress their Western neo-colonial masters, by imposing increasingly harsh security and surveillance measures against their own people. At the same time, they are full-heartedly and enthusiastically signing up to the bizarre, ‘War on Terror’. It gives the local rulers many privileges. If they play it right, their gross human rights violations, and even their killing of the opposition, is not scrutinized.
When I recently worked in South Africa, I was told that the country is now one of the freest on earth. It has nothing to hide and it is not particularly afraid of scrutiny.
“You can photograph here, whatever you want, and nobody will tell you anything”, many of my South African friends explained to me, in Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, as well as by those living abroad.
It is true. In fact, after few days there, you can easily forget that there are any restrictions, like a ban on filming or photographing police stations or navy ships. Nobody would ever stop you from taping, for instance, battleships at the Simon’s Town base.
South Africa is a proud BRICS country, a left-wing beacon on the African continent and, together with neighboring Zimbabwe, a target of an aggressive negative Western propaganda campaign.
Just as in South Africa, not once was I stopped from filming or photographing in Zimbabwe. And not once was I intimidated, harassed or humiliated by their immigration or customs at the airports.
That is in stark contrast with the West’s allies on the continent – Rwanda, Uganda, Djibouti, Kenya, Ivory Coast or Senegal, to name just a few.
It is not just that ‘everything is forbidden’ there, but ‘violators’ can easily be arrested, harassed, even ‘disappeared’.
When making my film, “Rwanda Gambit”, about Paul Kagame’s monstrous regime, and about the genocide it had been committing (on behalf of the Western powers) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I tried to film with a small Leica, at the border between Rwanda and DR Congo, at the Gisenyi/Goma crossing. Within a few seconds later, an enormous Congolese soldier grabbed me and began pulling me towards the border post. I have been arrested in Goma once before, and I knew what it amounts to – what it is to rot in the underground intelligence bunker cut off from the outside world.
I was almost certain that, that time, I would not make it out alive. And so I screamed for help in the direction of the Rwandese soldiers who were watching the scene from the other side of the borderline. It is not that they were really eager to help, but the disappearance of a US citizen, an investigative journalist at that, would be an extra, and unnecessary ‘annoyance’. And so they went to work, grabbing my free hand and pulling me back towards Rwanda. The enormous Congolese man in the end lost, and I survived.
All of this over just a few shots! Nobody would ever even think about preventing me from filming on, say the border between Argentina and Chile, or Vietnam and China!
In Rwanda itself, absolutely everything is forbidden, and everybody snitches on everybody. It is forbidden to photograph the streets, the hospitals, and museums, even the genocide memorial! It is strictly banned to photograph or to film their villages, In order to film military installations or prisons, I had to attach a Drift camera to the undercarriage of my car.
In Rwanda and Uganda, everything is under the surveillance. Walls have ears and eyes, so to speak. It is not like surveillance in London, done with high-tech cameras (although these are also beginning to appear); people simply spy on each other, at an unimaginable rate, and the security apparatus appears to be present absolutely everywhere, omnipresent.
But for the West, that is all fine. Both Rwanda and Uganda are plundering DR Congo of Coltan and uranium. The 10 million lives lost there, appears to be just a token price, and the horrors that are occurring in these countries are just some tiny inconvenient episodes not even worth mentioning in the mainstream press.
Security is ‘needed’, in order to maintain ‘order’ – our order.
The humiliation of travellers at Kigali, Kampala or Nairobi airports is indescribable. It is not about security at all, but about a power game, and plain sadism. In Kigali, there are at least 8 ‘security checks’, in Nairobi 6 to 7, depending on the ‘mood’ at the airport.
Three years ago, on behalf of the West (mainly US, UK and Israel), Kenya attacked the oil-rich part of Somalia, where it is now committing atrocities. Its state apparatus also perpetrated several attacks against its own civilian targets, blaming all of them on the al-Qaida linked movement, al-Shabaab. It was done in order to justify the ‘security measures’.
Now there are metal detectors in front of every department store, hotel or office-building in Nairobi. When I, earlier this year, photographed the entrance to a prison, I was literally kidnapped, thrown into the jail and informed: “We will treat you as a terrorist, as an al-Shabaab member, unless you prove that you are not.”
The slightest argument with the Kenyan military forces, or with the corrupt and outrageously arrogant police, leads to detention. And there are cases of people being harassed, sexually molested, even tortured and killed in detention.
The security forces in East Africa cooperate, as the security forces cooperated in the dark years of the fascist military dictatorships in South America.
As I was walking with my friends through Kampala, a huge lone figure slowly walked towards us.
“That is one of the butchers and he comes from Kenya”, I was told. “He tortures and kills people that pose a danger to this regime… He does things no local person would dare to do. Our countries exchange the most sadistic interrogators; ours go to Kenya, Kenyans come here.”
I recalled that even Paul Kagame, now the President of Rwanda, used to serve as the Chief of the Military Intelligence in Uganda.
Yes, the Newark and Houston airport security is bad, and the surveillance in the West is outrageous, but it is being taken to insane extremes in the ‘colonies’.
In Djibouti, which is basically a military enclave of the French Legionnaires, the US air force and other European armed forces (Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea and Ethiopia are all just a stone-throw away), I once complained at the airport that my passport was being checked twice within a distance of 10 feet. As a result, a huge soldier grabbed me, tore my shirt, threw me against the wall, and then smashed my professional camera against a concrete wall. All this happened in front of the horrified passengers of Kenya Airways. That, I found somehow intolerable. It pissed me off so much that I got up, ready to confront the soldier, no matter what. But the horrified voice of a Kenya Airways’ manager stopped me: “Sir, please leave it at this… They can just kill you, and nothing will happen to them. They can do anything they want!”
In Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), which is yet another French military dependency, and generally a loyal servant to Western interests in West Africa, ‘security’ is the main excuse for keeping undesirable elements, like myself, away from the country. Earlier this year I embarked on a journey there to investigate the chocolate empire activities of the Ukrainian President Poroshenko. Ivory Coast is the biggest producer of cocoa in the world, and ‘the Chocolate King’ is apparently involved in many unsavory practices there.
The authorities were tipped off in advance that I was coming, and the charade began from the moment I landed. I was ordered to produce my yellow fever certificate, which was inside my bag. As I began searching for it, I was roughly ushered into a small room full of sick people quarantine – and informed that I was to be vaccinated again. I found the certificate just a few seconds later, and went out to present it to the authorities. “Back!” they shouted at me. Wait inside for your turn, and tell the doctor that you have found it. The wait turned out to be 2 hours long. Later, I was told that a visa on arrival is no longer available. For days I had to go to the immigration office, from morning to the evening. For days I was fingerprinted and photographed. I clearly saw that wires were disconnected from their computer, every time my turn came round. “Your fingers are not good for fingerprinting! Go to the hospital and bring a certificate that they are not good!” Going there costs US$100 a time, and another wasted day in Abidjan. The hospital said that my fingers were just fine. I had to bribe them to write that they were not.
The US embassy was clearly aware of what was happening. They even sent an officer to ‘assist me’. I showed him that the wires had been pulled out from the computer. “We cannot interfere in other country’s internal affairs”, he explained.
Then, on the last day, when my visa was finally issued, a lady from the US embassy whispered into the phone: “Well, if you write what you do, you must be ready for the consequences”. ‘Honest person’, I thought.
I am almost ‘embarrassed’ to write this, but I have driven on many occasions, all over China (PRC), around at least 8,000 kilometers, but have never been prevented from photographing or filming anything. I have hours and hours of footage and thousands of photographs from many corners of the nation.
A stark, almost grotesque contrast is India, the ‘largest democracy on earth’, according to the Western assessment.
There, nothing is allowed. Forget about filming the battleships near Mumbai (even the Soviet Union does not care – they would put their battleships on the Neva river in Leningrad during celebrations, for everyone to admire and to photograph them, which I did, as a child, when visiting my grandmother). You cannot even photograph that idiot Clive, inside the Victoria Monument in Calcutta.
In India, surveillance is everywhere. It is the perfect police state.
You need a local SIM card in Beijing? Even in the middle of the night, you just go to any kiosk and buy one, no questions asked, no paperwork.
In India, to get a SIM card is one tremendous saga, monstrous bureaucracy, spiced by demands for all sorts of documents and information.
You want to use the internet at New Delhi airport? You have to provide your name, your telephone number, and your email address! I invent names, like Antonio Mierdez or Amorsita Lopez; sometimes it works, sometimes not. In China, you just stick the front page of a passport onto a scanner, and get password within ten seconds. In South Africa, there is not even need for that – the internet is open and free.
And then, those legendary, those epic security checks in India!
The Indian state appears to be thoroughly paranoid, scared of anyone trying to document the reality.
It has developed an allergy to writers, investigative journalists, film-makers and photographers, especially those that happen to be ‘independent’, therefore ‘unpredictable’ and potentially capable of challenging the clichés fabricated in Washington, London and New Delhi, that depict the country as the ‘largest democracy on earth’.
To fight against such threatening elements, the Indian regime, which consists of the moneyed elites, feudal lords, religious fanatics and the military brass, have become pathologically obsessed with security, with surveillance, with relentless checking on things, and people. I have never witnessed such security zeal, even in countries that are under a direct threat from the West: such as Cuba or China.
Even domestic flights in India, from smaller cities like Varanasi or Jaipur, require an entire chain of security steps. Your passport or ID is checked on at least 10 occasions. As you enter the airport, a few steps later, before you are allowed to check in, when you are checking in, as you are entering the departure area, when you are in the departure area (that one is grand – you are forced to step on a platform and everything is checked), when you are entering the departure gate and when you are leaving it for the plane door. Sometimes there are additional checks. It is all, mostly, very rude.
In Turkey, everything is censored. From my official website to ‘Sitemeter’, even the Hong Kong MTR and Beijing and Shenzhen subway maps (maybe just in case someone wants to compare those pathetic subway developments in Istanbul and Ankara, to those in China).
When I called the guest relations supervisor at the four star ‘Kalyon Hotel’ in Istanbul, where I was staying in November 2014, I was told that she “does not know what internet provider is used by the hotel”, but that censorship is actually part of a “security program”, which in turn is part of “the hotel policy”, or vice versa.
She actually kindly suggested that I bring my Mac ‘downstairs’, so the IT manager could “do something with it”. I very politely, declined, remembering an experience two years earlier, at the Sheraton in Istanbul, where the ‘IT manager’ actually installed some spy wear, which totally and immediately corrupted my computer, my email addresses, turning my operating system into something that has since been insisting on functioning almost exclusively in the Turkish language. When I complained over the phone, he, the IT manager, went upstairs, kicked my door, rolled up his sleeves and he let me know that this matter could be settled most effectively, outside the hotel, most likely in the street.
It may sound bizarre, but in the countries literally besieged by hostility from the Empire, like Cuba or even North Korea, security appears to be much more lax than in the nations where the elites are terrified of their own poor majority.
I don’t remember going through any security, in order to enter a theatre or a hotel in Havana. In Pyongyang, North Korea, there are no metal detectors at entrances to shopping centers, or subway stations.
It goes without saying that one is monitored more closely by the security cameras and armies of cops in London or New York, than in Hanoi or Beijing.
The most common mode of modern communication – the mobile phone – is regulated much less or monitored in Vietnam, China or Venezuela, than in India, Japan, or Europe. In fact, Japan recently even discontinued the sale of pre-paid SIM cards; every number has to be meticulously registered and issued only after signing an elaborate contract.
As I keep reporting, the world is full of stereotypes and clichés. Countries are not judged by rational analyses and comparisons, but by chimeras created by commercial mass media, especially those in the West.
Three countries in Latin America are still living the nightmare of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’: Honduras, Paraguay and Columbia. In Paraguay and Honduras, the West basically managed to overthrow progressive governments and installed fascist regimes, not unlike those that reigned all over the continent during Reagan and Otto Reich’s days. Colombia has been, for decades, a US ‘client’ state.
Surveillance in all three countries is monstrous, and so are gangs and death-squads.
But you would not guess it. If you read Western reports, including those produced by Reporters Without Borders, you would think that the true villains are actually countries like Venezuela and Cuba. But then, you look closely, and see who organizations like Reporters Without Borders are playing with… And surprise-surprise: you will discover names like Otto Reich among them!
When Thailand, another staunch ally of the West and a shamelessly servile state, began photographing people at the airports and borders, I asked an immigration officer in Bangkok, where all the data goes. She answered, without any hesitation: “To your country!” That is, to the United States.
Malaysia and its immigration used to be quite different – relaxed and easy. But then, earlier this year, Obama came aboard his diplomatic tank. I landed in Kuala Lumpur just an hour after his Air Force One had touched town. What did I encounter? A fingerprinting machine at KLIA! Obama left, but the machines are still there. To spy on people, to fingerprint and photograph them, is apparently one of the conditions of being a good friend of the West. That would never have happened in the era of Dr. M!
Even Japan now photographs and fingerprints people arriving from abroad! Japan where one can even easily and freely photograph combat air force bases (some of them, including those in Okinawa, have viewing terraces for tourists, all around them) is now also spying on people! That is, obviously, one of the rules laid down by the gang that is ruling the world.
Of course the Western allies of the United States are not much better.
Do you still remember how Europeans were bitching about having to take of their shoes at US airports? What has happened now? They do it, without protesting, at their own airports, in London, Paris, Munich, everywhere.
In fact, the most repulsive security I have ever encountered in the West was at CDG, in Paris. I was taking a night flight on Asiana Airlines, from Paris to Seoul. The flight was full of Korean tourists in their seventies and eighties. The tables were set up, sadistically, far away from the X-ray machines, so the poor old people had to carry their bags and belongings quite a long distance. Security personnel were yelling at them, insulting them. I protested, on behalf of the Koreans. A tough French dude came up to me and began insulting me. I asked for his name. He turned around and mooned me, in public. He took down his pants and showed me his hairy ass. “My name is Nicolas Sarkozy”, he said. In a way he was right…
Once I arrived very early in the morning, in Darwin, Australia, after working in East Timor. My electronic travel authorization was for ‘tourism’. The unfriendly immigration officer was clearly on her power trip: “What are you going to do in Australia?” I told her I would be meeting some of my academic friends in Sydney.” “That is work, academic exchange!” she barked at me. “You requested a tourist permit.” I explained that we would just have dinner together, perhaps get pissed”. That was the typical Aussie-type of tourism, I thought. The interrogation began and went on for 2 hours. As the sun was rising, I had had enough: “Then deport me!” Of course she did not. Humiliating people was simply a form of entertainment, or how to kill a couple of boring hours. Or how to show people where they really belong!
How free and proud one should feel entering that great world of Western democracies!
One has to lie, of course. Once I was held for 4 hours by the Canadian immigration services, entering from the US by car. Why? I told the truth, that I was coming to interview Roma (Gypsy) people fleeing from persecution in the Czech Republic (a staunch ally of the West).
Leaving Israel is beyond anything that I have ever experienced elsewhere in the world. Especially once Mossad realized that I had come to trash Israel for its treatment of Palestinian people, and for its foreign policy.
We commonly end up discussing my grandparents, my books, and my films. I have already commented: no woman in my life, not even my own mother, wanted to know so much about all the details of my existence, as Mossad agents at the airport! And none of them has ever listened so attentively!
I am totally exhausted from all that freedom given to me by the West and its allies.
My email addresses are corrupted and I don’t even know which publication or television network is actually receiving my stuff. There is absolutely no way to tell. I have no idea which immigration service will screw me next, and how.
I have already got buggered about by the security in Colombia, Canada, Indonesia, Kenya, Djibouti, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Kenya, the US (entering from Mexico), Bahrain and Australia… I can hardly remember, there is much more…
It is all turning into a game of Russian roulette.
My African, Indian, Arab and Latin American friends and colleagues are, of course, going through much deeper shit.
The question that I keep asking myself is very simple: “What are they all so afraid of?” I don’t mean the US and Europe – those are control freaks and they simply don’t want to lose their control of the world… There, it is all transparent and clear.
But it is not as clear elsewhere: what about those regimes in India and Turkey, in Honduras and Kenya, in Indonesia (you have to show your passport or the national ID, even to board a long distance train!) and Bahrain?
What are they fighting for or against? Who is their enemy?
They are fighting against their own people, aren’t they?
Their ‘War on Terror’ is their war against the majority. The majority are the terror. The West is the guarantee of the status quo.
They – the elites and their masters in the West – watch in panic that in many parts of the world, the people are actually winning.
That is why the security in the West’s ‘client’ states is on the increase. The war against the people goes on. This war is one of the last and brutal spasms of feudalism and imperialism.
Check everything and spy on everybody, so nothing changes, nothing moves. But things are moving, and fast! And all those lies, and surveillance cameras, fingerprints and the ‘disappearing’ of people will not be able to prevent progress. They will never manage to smash the people’s dreams of living in societies free of fear!
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.