Sunday, September 13, 2015

understanding history is vital to understanding contemporary policy decisions...,

aljazeera | Despite the revelations by WikiLeaks and NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, there is still a general belief in the West that oppressive forms of political surveillance belong to another time or place — contained in the snow globe of a turbulent era yet simultaneously quotidian and unremarkable.

In the U.S. this myopic detachment persists even though surveillance remains a daily reality, not just under foreign dictatorships but also in our own backyard.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s surveillance and sabotage under its first director, J. Edgar Hoover — most vividly remembered for the well-documented smear campaigns against civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. — might make one believe that politically repressive surveillance is something confined to a past era. However, recent revelations indicate the U.S. government has been regularly monitoring members of the Black Lives Matter movement since the early days of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

Two of the movement’s most influential activists — Deray McKesson and Johnetta Elzie — were labeled threat actors and assigned a high severity level when they participated in the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore earlier this year, according to a crisis management report (PDF) prepared by the cybersecurity firm ZeroFox.

The outfit maintained continuous monitoring of the protesters’ social media accounts, providing minute-by-minute updates of their movements and briefed classified partners at the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade. The Department of Homeland Security monitored protests in Washington, D.C., even though a department memo to officials acknowledged it had “no current intel that these marches will be anything but peaceful” and an intelligence bulletin from the FBI noted that there is “no information suggesting violent behavior is planned.”

It demonstrates once again that the purpose of such surveillance has never been protection from vague threats to national security. As with the FBI’s crackdown on civil rights leaders in the 1960s and ’70s and leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the monitoring was intended to intimidate those who dare to organize and galvanize popular opposition by marking them potential terrorists and criminals.