By David Hoffman
"Where am I?"
"In The Village."
"What do you want?"
"Whose side are you on?"
"That would be telling. We want information, information, information."
"You won't get it."
"By hook or by crook, we will."
"Who are you?"
"The new Number Two."
"Who is Number One?"
"You are Number Six."
"I am not a number. I am a free man!"
This brief exchange opened each episode of the 1960s science fiction drama THE PRISONER, starring the late Patrick McGoohan.
In this series, McGoohan plays a former secret agent who is abducted and spirited off to a place known only as The Village.
At first glance, The Village appears to be a tranquil, inviting place. Its residents move about with an aura of contentment, their physical needs are met, and their cottages are aesthetically appealing and well furnished. There is no need for money, since purchases at local shops are made via the use of punch cards that indicate the number of "work units" the prospective buyer has accumulated.
But beneath The Village's façade resides a highly surveilled, intensely regimented police state presided over by an omnipresent (and ever changing) administrator known simply as "Number Two." All the movements of Village residents are tracked on cameras and/or computer screens, and anyone who resists or objects to the existing power structure is declared an "unmutual" and shunned.
One truism about science fiction is it often becomes science fact, and THE PRISONER is no exception to this maxim, especially with its prophetic vision of the "Big Brother" types of surveillance that have now become a staple throughout the world.
In America, for example, persons leaving their homes for even the most mundane of chores can expect to be photographed and/or filmed dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Almost every cell phone contains a camera, making it easy to take people's photographs with or without their knowledge. Many of these images make their way onto the Internet. Surveillance cameras are mounted on traffic lights and utility poles, internet usage and searches can be monitored and tracked, computer programs can detect every character a person types on a keyboard, and Photoshop and video programs can "cut and paste" individuals into situations and scenarios they have never physically experienced.
Even if a person manages to evade the cameras, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), a staple on most cell phones, can track a person's every movement, voice and facial recognition programs can expose their identities, computer tracking chips can be (and are) secreted in consumer products, satellites can read automobile license plates from outer space, a person's nude body can be revealed on airport scanners, DNA profiling can provide clues to an individual's genetic proclivities, and debit and credit cards are slowing replacing hard currency.
So it was not surprising when news reports recently revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had covertly attached a GPS tracking device to an individual's vehicle. FBI agents even had the audacity to visit the apartment of the person whose rights they violated to demand the return of "their property" after the device had been discovered and removed during a routine mechanical procedure.
What is surprising, however, is the relative lack of outrage this incident generated, even though it clearly demonstrated that today's FBI is just as corrupt, lawless and unaccountable for its actions as it was under the auspices of its racist and megalomaniacal former director-J. Edgar Hoover.
What makes this systemic silence particularly disturbing is the fact that many, if not most, Americans rationalized George W. Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq by proclaiming that Saddam Hussein was a threat to America's "freedom and democracy." Bush himself asserted, after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, that terrorists hated America because of its "freedoms." Yet most Americans remained oblivious to the fact that Bush and his minions dismantled the United States Constitution-through laws like the Patriot Act-and destroyed America's freedoms-through the use of torture, rendition, warrantless wiretaps and illegal detentions-more ruthlessly than any terrorist could have hoped to accomplish.
Apparently this obliviousness lives on.
Still, the "legal" groundwork for the demolition of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, was established years before the events of 9/11. During the 1990s, many public schools developed "random drug testing" policies. These policies effectively eliminated the constitutionally mandated "reasonable suspicion standard" that school officials previously had to meet before they could engage in a search or seizure of a student.
Now, through a supposedly "random" lottery, students are compelled to leave their classrooms, required to reveal private information about legally prescribed medications they are taking (including medications for depression, birth control or HIV), and then forced to urinate into a specimen jar while a "collector" watches or listens.
But, as I've contended in previous Pravda.Ru articles, these policies are not, and never were, designed to combat drugs. They were created to indoctrinate young people into obsequiously accepting that, in "modern day" America, people are considered guilty until proven innocent, and (most importantly for the power structure) that a ubiquitous "Big Brother" has the ability to invade and control even the most personal aspects of an individual's life.
The effects of this indoctrination are already evident. Whenever I've asked students how they felt about random drug testing, I've received two common responses: "I don't mind being tested because I'm not doing anything wrong," or, "I believe the government has the right to do whatever it wants."
Yet I've never heard a student ask, "If I'm not suspected of doing anything wrong, don't I have the right to be left alone?" or, "What happened to my right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures?"
What 9/11 actually did was speed up the erosion process. The fear and hysteria it generated meant the federal government no longer had to wait for the "randomly drug tested" crowd to grow up before it began dismantling the Constitution.
Many (including myself I'll admit) naively believed that Barack Obama would restore the freedoms Americans lost during the corrupt and lawless years of the Bush dictatorship. But Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, rapidly shattered that optimism. In fact, Holder is such a hypocrite that he has openly threatened federal intervention if the State of California legalizes marijuana, yet he has not prosecuted a single perjurer, torturer or war criminal from the Bush dictatorship and/or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and in many cases has gone to extraordinary lengths to defend them.
To rationalize his decision not to prosecute, Holder pontificated that these perjurers, torturers and war criminals had simply used "bad judgment." Yet it's ironic how "bad judgment" excuses their crimes, but California apparently does not have the right to exercise any kind of judgment concerning the legalization of marijuana.
Even though Holder's actions are contemptible in their own right, Obama himself has actually retained and defended many of the Bush dictatorship's most draconian laws and policies. One of these laws makes it a federal crime to provide "material support" to a "foreign terrorist organization."
Many have argued that this law's vagueness and overbreath can criminalize the actions of people who are simply trying to provide humanitarian and educational aid to the oppressed. This law has also caused refugees to be deported back to countries where their lives are at risk, even after they proved that their alleged support for a "terrorist" organization was compelled through the use of threats or violence.
Another problem with this law is that the definition of what constitutes a "terrorist" organization is often less dependent on the tactics an organization uses, and more dependent upon whether or not the organization supports the policies of the United States. This, of course, means that people who rape, torture and murder with the blessing of the American government are "freedom fighters," while people who oppose American policy are blanketly branded as "terrorists."
At least the United States Congress was diligent enough to insert the words "foreign terrorist organization" into this law. Otherwise the prisons would be overflowing, because every year millions of Americans are coerced, through the taxation process, to provide material support to the largest and most powerful terrorist organization in the world-the CIA, whose legacy of assassination, rape, torture and countless other atrocities could make even the most hardened terrorist blush.
Predictably, these compelling arguments against the constitutionality of this "material support" law were not persuasive enough for a majority of the United States Supreme Court, who ruled its provisions did not violate the United States Constitution.
I say "predictably," because even though the primary job of the judicial branch of government is to defend the Constitution against abuses by the legislative and executive branches, it has actually been the most complicit in its destruction. It was the United States Supreme Court that ultimately gave constitutional legitimacy to "random drug testing" in public schools, and, with its current racist majority, comprised of Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and, perhaps most contemptible of all, Scalia, the worst is undoubtedly yet to come.
Since this majority's ascendancy, the Constitution has simply become a nuisance for them to explain away or ignore. Even when these five reprobates do acknowledge it, as they did in the Citizens United case, it is only to protect and enhance the political clout of national and multi-national corporations.
This so-called judicial "philosophy" has not been lost on the lower federal courts, and the results have been chilling. Lawsuits against people who abused the power of their office during the Bush dictatorship, like former Attorney General John Ashcroft, have been routinely dismissed on the most specious of reasoning.
For example, plaintiffs who sued Ashcroft for secretly wiretapping their telephones had their cases thrown out of court because they could not prove they had been wiretapped. But if these plaintiffs attempted to meet the court's "burden of proof" by subpoenaing the records of the United States government, the subpoena probably would be "quashed" on "national security" grounds. And even if these plaintiffs did establish the fact they were illegally wiretapped, the court would probably rule that their knowledge of the wiretaps meant they weren't "secret," and therefore no constitutional harm occurred.
It is precisely these Machiavellian "Catch-22s" erected by the "legal system" that emboldens the FBI and CIA with the knowledge they can operate above the law and without accountability.
Yet sadly, even if by some miracle the federal courts suddenly rediscover their obligation to defend the Constitution, governmental abuses of power will continue unabated. The judicial branch has limited enforcement capabilities, particularly when it comes to restraining the other two branches of government, which in turn means that, lacking court approval, rogue agencies like the FBI and CIA will simply do illegally what they can no longer do legally.
Those who doubt this need only recall J. Edgar Hoover's now infamous COINTELPRO operation, which was spawned in response to the demise of the McCarthy era's "red-scare" hysteria and the increasing reluctance of the federal courts to rubber stamp FBI abuses.
Although so-called "reforms" were implemented after the extent of COINTELPRO's criminality was disclosed during the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s, they were short-lived. Ronald Reagan signaled that such abuses would continue to be tolerated when he pardoned FBI agents who had been convicted of violating the rights of COINTELPRO targets, while completely ignoring COINTELPRO victims who languished in prison (where, tragically, some still remain to this day).
So why have so many Americans remained silent in the face of this onslaught against the very rights and freedoms they claim to revere?
One reason is the daily barrage of propaganda from companies that trumpet the benefits of technological advances while concealing their potential for abuse.
For example, a recent television commercial showed a somewhat shady looking man stuffing items into his pockets as he walked through a store. A security guard witnessed these apparent acts of theft, but did not intervene, even as the man exited the store.
Why? Because the doors of the store were equipped with scanners that automatically read the barcodes of the items the man had pocketed. And the money required to pay for them was automatically deducted from his bank account, thanks to an implanted computer chip that contained his financial information.
What this commercial failed to say, however, was that such technology also means that Big Brother will be cognizant of every item one purchases. In addition, this "moneyless" society will ultimately force everyone to deposit their assets into a bank or other financial institution where they will not only be available for governmental monitoring, but also subject to the plethora of "service" fees such institutions routinely charge.
This "new" method of promoting technology is actually the old trick of capitalism: Market something as a luxury until it becomes a necessity. Then you can force consumers to pay whatever price is demanded. (Just ask the oil companies).
Another reason for this conspicuous silence is because most Americans have been duped into believing that these vague, overbroad and unconstitutional laws and policies, which threaten their very liberty, will only be used against "bad" people.
But, as the "material support" law demonstrates, Big Brother is the ultimate arbiter of what (or who) is "good" or "bad."
Not so long ago, Native-Americans fighting to preserve their land and heritage were considered to be "bad." So were people who sought to abolish slavery, who advocated for a woman's right to vote, who marched for civil rights, or who protested the fact that eighteen-year-olds were mature enough to die for their country in combat, but not mature enough to vote.
Naturally this list could go on ad infinitum, but I believe the point is made.
As this article has illustrated, the people responsible for enforcing and reviewing America's laws are rarely paradigms of integrity. What this new surveillance technology does is invite, and even reward, abuse and misconduct. Police and prosecutors will now be able to "cherry pick" what helps them and ignore what doesn't: If a GPS device secretly installed on a criminal defendant's car gives him an alibi, don't reveal that the device exists; if a videotape does not place a suspect at the crime scene, digitally paste her image onto the tape so she does appear; if you want to violate people's constitutional rights, do so secretly. Then they cannot prove their rights were violated.
Centuries ago the Roman poet Juvenal asked, "Who watches the watchers?"
Unfortunately, in America today the answer is nobody.
Welcome to The Village.
David R. Hoffman,
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru