An American in Berlin Offers Advice to the Perturbed
Classical Roman poet Juvenal asked, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” The question of who watches the watchers is a perennial one. In democracies, the people are ultimately charged with this task. Indeed, decent people everywhere accept this responsibility unbidden. When our caretakers are tired, we must care for them. We need better strategies for surviving our governments.
Domestic surveillance and psyops have long gone together in America. The FBI, for example, subjected Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to a combination of these techniques in response to his Civil Rights Movement activities. One such combination entailed recording his affairs, calling his wife, and playing the tape — then sending him a letter suggesting he should commit suicide because if the affairs came out, it would hurt the movement.
This sort of thing is happening now with social media, e-commerce, phone, and physical elements of misinformation, harassment, intimidation, and threats. It has the potential to achieve an inestimable breadth and depth of professional and personal damage. In the military term of art, this is full-spectrum dominance — against civilians in peacetime. And the American people might not approve of it if they knew what was happening in their name.
The system is broken. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) apparatus has become so overloaded and nonfunctional that leaks have become an even more integral part of our built-in system of checks and balances. Although a rapidly growing volume of FOIA requests has changed the game since the Internet revolution, this is not new. During the Vietnam Era, Mark Felt — then-FBI Deputy Director — opened his Deep Throat, supplying information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to inform the American people about illegal domestic surveillance and due process violations involving peaceful protesters, culminating in the Church Committee and its fourteen published reports on U.S. intelligence agency abuses of law and powers.
But the new world of social media has created a new phase in the information game that is contemporary politics. To my knowledge, there is no existing legal regime for domestic surveillance and psyops in this world. This legal hole gives law enforcement agencies broad leeway to engage in activities intended to generate some of the same effects that are illegal when produced directly under international law on torture, such as sleep deprivation.
We will fix this disconnect in the legal regime over time. This type of disconnect between technological capability and laws constraining law enforcement activities is typical, not exceptional, in historical terms. But allowing democracy to work means letting the people know the facts about what is being done in their name.
In the meantime, if you find yourself the target of domestic surveillance and psyops, here are four things you can do to protect yourself. They are all about refusing to be a victim. The world is too beautiful and life is too short to pretend that any man behind the curtain can make you something you refuse to be.
First, get a Samaritan. Gavin MacFadyen, Director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ), says that when CIJ did an in-depth inquiry into what whistleblowers need, the answer that came back surprised them. The first thing whistleblowers say people like them need and don’t get is not lawyers, guns, and money.
It’s someone to talk to.
This insight from the broader context of whistleblower support in investigative journalism is doubly true in the context of domestic surveillance and psyops. The goal of psyops is to make you look crazy — preferably to make you go crazy — and whistleblowers working with CIJ indicate that the first thing you need from this position is someone who understands how this works. Someone to talk to who will not tell you you’re crazy.
Second, own your shit. If anyone might conceivably blackmail you with anything, beat them to the punch by being who you are with grace. When you are asking other parties — like the most powerful government in the world — to own their shit, you have got to own yours, too. You have to have the attitude that there is nothing anyone can do to you that you can’t deal with, because you are telling the truth and you have freedom in your heart.
Third, entrap the entrappers. Follow the law. And give other people opportunities to break it getting what they want (which is to get you to break it). “Show not tell” is a good rule in politics as much as in writing. The government works for you. Let it.
Finally, get thee to a safer port. The community of political refugees from the U.S. is growing in and around Amsterdam, Berlin, and London. Amsterdam is the most peaceful, Berlin is the cheapest, and London has the most cultural exchange. Flying into the U.K. from the U.S. will also give you a 180-day visitor visa, as opposed to the Continent’s 90-day visa.
If you are standing up for truth and beauty, world peace and freedom, please know that your work is valued. There are many people working and playing right alongside you. We are your tribe and we will support you. You are not alone. And you deserve to be somewhere you feel free.
When our law enforcement officers need better laws in order to improve the ways in which they uphold rule of law and the founding spirit of our shared core values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — we must help them by watching the watchers. And when agents of powerful organizations entrap instead of helping vulnerable, peaceful, law-abiding people — we must entrap them right back.