Mark Weisbrot writes: Several years ago, I had lunch with a US government official who told me about a trip that I had taken, that almost nobody knew about. I didn’t have to ask him where he got the information. For as long as I can remember, our government has been spying on dissidents, especially those who oppose crimes committed in the name of “national security”.
When I was a student at the University of Michigan, the FBI took down the license plates numbers of the people who drove to our meetings of the local Latin American Solidarity Committee, which was trying to end the US-sponsored terrorism and wars in Central America. This we learned from documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. The surveillance of our local, peaceful, and law-abiding group – long before the Patriot Act or the “war on terror” – was so extensive that one of our members who wrote a history of the group had to thank the FBI for keeping such a complete and detailed record of our activities.
The current revelations of a vast, secret NSA surveillance program are, of course, a continuation of what our government has been doing for the past century – the main difference being that the dragnet has gotten much larger due to change in communications technology. But there is an often-overlooked political reason for this mass intrusion on our personal communications: the government is gathering actionable intelligence in order to use it against those who oppose unpopular, unjust, and often criminal policies of that same government. And it has good reason to do so, because that opposition can be quite effective.
It is well-known that a mass protest movement, as well as its lobbying of Congress helped get us out of Vietnam. It is less widely known that the movement against the Central American wars in the 1980s, which involved hundreds of thousands of people, succeeded in cutting off congressional funding for the war against Nicaragua. And perhaps more historically significant, that result caused major problems for then-President Reagan, when his government turned to illegal funding and got caught, resulting in the infamous “Iran-Contra” scandal. [Continue reading…]