Then And Now: This Agency Had Us Under Surveillance Long Before 9/11

LEIUThis is the second in a series of articles examining how much certain things have – and have not – changed in the past 33 years. Why 33? Well, when I was ill recently, I happened to pick up a very old book: The Book Of Lists 2. It was published in 1979 and my copy is yellowing and creased but I still keep it handy for when I want a bit of mental popcorn. This particular day I turned to a list of 10 stories that had been censored or not reported by the media. The list was provided by Project Censored, a group that was founded at Sonoma State University in 1976 and who continue to do stellar work today. As I read, I was dismayed to note that most of the stories were still valid and still under-reported. So I decided to examine exactly how much they had changed in the ensuing time period. It seems a bit quaint to read the original entry on this topic. So much has happened since 1979: the PATRIOT Act and the NSA, along with the social media revolution, have changed the way we think about privacy:

Original: While most Americans are familiar with the FBI and the CIA, few have heard of the LEIU – the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit. The LEIU links the intelligence squads of almost every major police force in the U.S. and Canada. Although its members are sworn police officers who work for state and city governments, the LEIU is a private organization and not subject to freedom of information laws. Consequently, its files are even more secret than the CIA and the FBI.

Update: Where to begin? The LEIU is still a going concern. At the time of the above writing, the organization was under scrutiny for the information cards they kept on “organized crime” figures which included anti-war, Black, tribal, community, and labor organizers. Some of that information referred to the subjects as “leaders in the Peace movement” or “Marxist scholar” or “associated with Triad group.” Much of this information was just wrong. Yet the federal government spent $1.7 million for the LEIU to computerize those cards into what they called the Interstate Organized Crime Index (IOCI). This report by (now Political Research Associates) is quite detailed and pulls no punches. A lot of taxpayer money went into funding the LEIU’s activities, even though it did – and still does – claim to be a private organization. The law enforcement agencies that belong to the LEIU use our money to pay their dues and fees. The information-dense report contains this interesting nugget:

Some LEIU critics charge that the whole LEIU/IOCI scheme was an intentional attempt to circumvent congressional mandates prohibiting the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration from establishing a federally funded national police network and centralized dossier system.

That system is, quite likely, a given now. Of course, we have other groups that spy on Americans now. Post-9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has joined the FBI, NSA, CIA and other groups and programs to keep the American people under surveillance. The American Civil Liberties Union keeps a log on all of them, prefacing their list of spying organizations:

Today the government is spying on Americans in ways the founders of our country never could have imagined. The FBI, federal intelligence agencies, the military, state and local police, private companies, and even firemen and emergency medical technicians are gathering incredible amounts of personal information about ordinary Americans that can be used to construct vast dossiers that can be widely shared through new institutions like Joint Terrorism Task Forces, fusion centers, and public-private partnerships. And this surveillance often takes place in secret, with little or no oversight by the courts, by legislatures, or by the public. The ACLU is dedicated to uncovering this secret surveillance network so Americans can protect their rights and demand accountability from these law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and from their elected representatives.

Using fear, these agencies have been able to watch us with near impunity. The corporations encourage this, too. They don’t want you and I to protest against them and their policies so they support the criminalization of that protest. Our rights are being eroded at an alarming rate and most Americans are either unaware or don’t care. It’s up to us to make them care. Otherwise, Big Brother will win.

You can read part one of my Then And Now series here: Then & Now: Why We’re STILL So Bad At Treating Cancer (Hint – Profit Motive)