Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Surveillance in Unistat Pre-Snowden, File #23a

"Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing." (see below)
"A case can be made...that secrecy is for losers. For people who don't know how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this too late. Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage. We put it in peril by poking along in an age now past. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most pervasive of all Cold War regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness that is already upon us."
-Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his 1998 book Secrecy: The American Experience, p.227

Moynihan the intellectual in the Senate. Published 10 books before going to Congress, vacillated from NeoLiberal to NeoCon. You figure it out.
Meanwhile, after the Berlin Wall came down, the intellectuals I was reading (kicked out of academia or were never part of it), or Noam Chomsky (as special case), were (mostly) predicting "Islamic Terrorism" as what the Pentagon would need in order to keep their rotten Show on the road. None of these writers I was reading were allowed on TV, so for most Unistatians, this idea didn't exist.
                                                Kathryn Olmsted, History professor at
                                                 University of California-Davis, who writes
                                                books on spies and national security issues

Earlier this year I read U.C. Davis History professor Kathryn Olmsted's book Right Out of California, which has the thesis that the Unistatian Right as it's now constituted started in the farmland of California in the Depression, because FDR's labor people realized he needed the South, so there were no protections for labor organizers of the farmworkers in California. I found it fairly persuasive, and I'm a fan of Olmsted's books now.

In this book I happened upon the story of a US General named Ralph Deman, who had accumulated a massive file on anyone he thought might harbor thoughts he might deem "dangerous," that is: anything that didn't toe the corporate state line. And he shared his files with right wing groups and the cops. (See Right Out of California, pp.151-157)

And some of us at one time thought J. Edgar Hoover was the only one. I thought so in my 20s.

*-regarding Ralph Deman, one of Olmsted's grad students responded to an email query about information sources on him. Obviously you can Duck Duck Go Deman, but Scott Pittman cited books titled Policing America's Empire and Negative Intelligence.
Esquire magazine decided to send William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, and Jean Genet to cover the 1968 Democratic Convention in "Czechago." Genet had a line: "The danger for America is not Mao's Thoughts; it is the proliferation of cameras." (see Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire's History of the Sixties, p.98)

Poet as Distant Early Warning system?
While Patty Hearst's trial was ongoing, it came out that her mother - Catherine - gave or lent $60,000 to $70,000 to a company called Research West back in 1969. What was "Research West"? It was "a private right-wing spy organization that maintained files supplied by confessed burglar Jerome Ducote." (Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders, Paul Krassner, p.35) There had been journalistic investigations of this, but Hearst-owned newspaper reporters were told to stop investigating, for obvious reasons. A Santa Cruz paper - the Sundaz, not owned by the Hearsts, did investigate, and found that, before Mrs. Hearst bought it, it was supported by "contributions" averaging $1000 and, well, I'll quote Krassner here on who was "contributing":

Pacific Telephone, Pacific Gas and Electric, railroads, steamship lines, banks, and [Hearst's own] The Examiner. In return, the files were available to those companies, as well as to local police and sheriff departments, the FBI, the CIA and the IRS. The Examiner paid $1500 a year through 1975 to retain the services of Research West. (p.35, Krassner)

It gets deeper and more (of course!) nefarious, but I'd like you to read Krassner's book to see how much we've missed from the Official Story.

                                        Investigative satirist and national treasure
                                         Paul Krassner

The good folks at Open Culture are currently (as of the date I'm writing this) featuring an animated 1958 Aldous Huxley predicting our world. "Dystopian threats to freedom." How alarmist! And yet...
Aldous immediately presented a threat to assholes like J. Edgar Hoover (who denied the Mafia existed, because they knew he was gay and could crush him, and furthermore, he protected and was friends with a major mobster, Frank Costello, see The Secret Histories: An Anthology, ed. by John S. Friedman, article "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover," by Anthony Summers, 1993, pp. 192-200), and other protectors of the 1%. Huxley arrived in Unistat in 1938, and author Herbert Mitgang obtained Huxley's FBI files. "Of the 130 pages, 111 were released to me, many heavily censored. The net of them: he and his daring and original writings were watched." - Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America's Greatest Authors, pp.192-194

Mitgang surmises the FBI tried to understand Huxley's famous book Brave New World, but apparently couldn't. Most bright 10th graders I know understand it. This has always been what we're dealing with, folks: losers. Cops who profess to love the Constitution, but in reality hate every bit of it. They (not all of them, of course) seem to be carriers of what Wilhelm Reich called "the emotional plague." 

Mitgang notes from Aldous's file that Hoover and his loser cop-pals thought Huxley was a threat, largely due to his overt pacifism. Think about that for awhile. Furthermore, the FBI subjected Brave New World to "cryptographic examination," and Mitgang observes, "but nothing subversive was discovered."

[NB: A bit of divagation: The British philosopher Peter Strawson would read my judgments on Hoover and his minions (as "assholes," etc) and assert that my judgments, which merely imply that they should be held accountable, reflect attitudes which derive from my own participation in personal relationships: forgiveness, resentment, gratitude, indignation, etc. I find this a very plausible idea.- OG]
I'm a subscriber to Muckrock, which specializes in obtaining and making public government information via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Not long ago I wondered about Robert Anton Wilson's file, so I made a request and got nowhere. Then I realized Michael Morisy of Muckrock had already tried to get RAW's FBI file, and posted THIS. Note the FBI were "unable to identify main file records responsive to FOIA." ("Main file records"? What others might there be?)

Then, as we read "Congress excluded three discrete categories of law enforcement and national security records from the requirements of the FOIA." You and I wonder what this means. We can't know. We're given some bureaucratic numbers and symbols to prove that what Congress did is true. Okay. Obama ran promising the "most transparent" administration ever, and yet 'tis more Orwell: he's probably been the least transparent. What do these assholes think "Freedom of Information" means?

Stupidly, I then realized my blogging friend Tom Jackson had already covered this in 2013. (Note the one comment was from Bruce Kodish, who has self-published a wonderful fat biography on Alfred Korzybski. If you're as interested in Korzybski as I am, you must get hold of this; it's a gem and divulges scads of info on its subject, info that seems to have only been privy to Korzybski's closest colleagues.)

If you've been involved in trying to get info under FOIA, you may have acquired government files that are so redacted that what's left is meaningless. So, we go from Orwell to Kafka. If you're not convinced, look at what the FBI sent Morisy on RAW: they say records for the request might exist. Or they might not. They won't tell us.

But we can be practically certain RAW has a fairly substantial file, somewhere in the Belly of the Beast.

From RAW's introduction to Donald Holmes's book The Illuminati Conspiracy: The Sapiens System:

During my last year of employment as Associate Editor of Playboy, a certain executive came into my office one day and closed the door behind him. He told me that my home phone was tapped and that I was under surveillance by the Red Squad of the Chicago Police Force. 

I was stunned, and asked how he knew this. 

He replied that certain people in the Playboy empire had made an arrangement with a Chicago police official. The official received regular money through some circuitous route that was not explained to me; in return he notified his Playboy contacts whenever an executive of the firm was under police investigation. 

That was when I first realized how often there are spies spying on spies.

RAW finds that, because he was involved in the anti-war movement and had talked to some Black Panthers, some spook for some agency dreamed up that RAW was running guns to the Black Panthers. RAW guesses some low-level spy wanted to beef up his reports to justify his work. Later RAW found out that there were "over 5000 government agents assigned to infiltrate peace groups in Chicago alone" (p.8), and that this was all part of COINTELPRO, which was meant to make everyone in a peace group paranoid that one of another of their fellows were spies for the government, and in effect reduce the efficacy of the peace movement...because we're a "free country" and our "way of life" is so superior to the Rooskies.

RAW says no one at Playboy thought he was dangerous, and offered to support him legally if anything happened.

Then RAW became an intimate of Dr. Leary, so that file must be very thick. Or one would think. But we don't know how to ask/guess the right questions in order to obtain why they thought Robert Anton Wilson was worth surveilling/wiretapping, etc.

Through most of his time as counterculture writer and activist, RAW knew he was being spied on, but decided to be amused by it, quoting Helen Keller: "Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing."

I know all of this seems comparatively ultra-innocent in light of what we know now that we're in the Snowden Era; I just want y'all to be aware of how the Official Story about "who we are, as a nation" clashes so radically with "reality."

                                                  grafikai Bob Campbell


Manic The Doodler said...

When I was a kid my dentist had a poster on the ceiling over the patient's chair with that Helen Keller quote on it. I always remembered it because of that!

Anonymous said...

Dip your ladle into any point in our history, and you'll scoop up dozens of dripping examples of how we never had these precious values to lose, that any values we have, we fought for, and should continue to fight for every day.

Lately I've wondered why the first totalitarian society to come to the average American's mind comes from 1984, while almost none of us KNOW that much about the USSR, North Korea, or Maoist China. Why do our schools give us fictional examples instead of real ones?

michael said...

@Manic the D: That quote hypnotizes me out of any anxiety and into a fearlessness that's quite bracing. Because it doesn't "stay" with me for long enough, I go back to a rule of Magick: Invoke Often.

@Anon: You're right, and it's one reason I'm some sort of anarchist. "They" never "gave" us our freedoms; we had to fight (often with bloodshed) to take what we won.

And I agree with you about "real life" examples of totalitarianism. However, I read a fiction book by Junot Diaz, _The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao_, which drew pretty heavily on the actual monstrous totalitarian Trujillo government in the Dominican Republic (backed by the CIA), which reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode, "It's A Wonderful Life," where the little boy (Billy Mumy) who has all the adults in a constant state of terror because if he just THINKS a harmful thought toward someone, it happens. Here may be a case where the techniques of fiction can make us more sensitive to the horror of varieties of totalitarianism.

As for Unistat's situation since around 1898: the owners of the country have never cared all that much about right wing domestic terror; they do care enormously about anyone or any group that threatens their status quo, and now it's artists, writers, environmentalists, anyone who actually exercises free speech in an effective way that They don't like, people who are protesting because they're poor and can't pay their bills: these people are dangerous and we have to keep them under watch!

Any worthy model of totalitarianism must admit of gradations and specificities.

Bobby Campbell said...

Maybe RAW's records would be under Robert Edward Wilson?

Rushkoff does a great job of articulating where I'm at on surveillance/privacy et al


It's a more nuanced view than the headline suggests, but it does lean a bit towards the Leary anecdote of picking up his tapped phone and expressing enthusiasm for the opportunity to be listened to by the system. Or Orson Wells performing a radio show esque performance for his mccarthyite bugs. Or RAW CCing George W Bush on all his emails. "Big Brother is watching, learn to become invisible" Grant Morrison. Invisible -> transparent to illumination? Maybe!

The bias of electronic/networked communication seems stacked against privacy. It just sorta seems like it's not a tool that provides that function very well. Everything leaks, whether we think it should or not. We could take a vote a say a hurricane shouldn't hit the east coast, but I don't think the storm would very much care. Advancing digital technology seems something like a force of nature to me. I tend think more about how to live through the storm than how to stop it, but I'm glad there are people out there trying to stop it, because maybe I'm wrong! It takes all types.

I think average people can safeguard a comfortable amount of privacy anyways. I'm nobody, and I know how to encrypt things if I really need to, enough so at least to make my info more trouble than it's worth. It's really the mighty that are more vulnerable.

Notice under mass surveillance, weed is basically becoming legal and the cops are starting to have to wear cameras bc their systemic problems have been revealed.

But of course we're only in a temporary state as always, and the deck will continue to shuffle, and things are never how they seem anyway.

For example: If I were the head of a national intelligence agency and wanted to install a panopticon, I'd use something like #snowden. What better way?

"Imperial power is?
and to us what is it?"

Thanks, as always, for the wonderful space & impetus to brainstorm and warm up my fingers, OG!

Eric Wagner said...

Bob did not die. We have read so much RAW that we have moved into his newest novel, the one about President Trump.

Great piece, as usual

michael said...


Sorry I've taken so long to respond to your wonderful commentary here: I mostly agree with it in general, and literally every day I remind myself to take this more lightly, but: were Leary and Welles harmed by Authority/Control in their artistic/intellectual lives?

We know from Snowden that one of the things the NSA has done (and I consider local cops/sheriffs with StingRays as even more pernicious, btw) is bug American Muslims and watch their porn habits online, in case they need to tap into that mass sexual fascism we have lurking. And those Muslim people are Americans, like I am.

I could go on, and, like I wrote, I think you're right and RAW's quote from Helen Keller is a mantra. But to me, this is a multifaceted and serious issue. Say Unistat gets another attack from somewhere under Prez Trump. Do you think NSA/Big Data Corp intel will not seriously harm all kinds of innocent people?

I know some American muslims, and they've been terrified since 9/11. They're the best people, too: wouldn't harm a fly. I think of them every time I think of stories of famous people like Leary or Welles talking back to spooks. Who cares if a bunch of unknown citizens disappear suddenly?

Bob: you can encrypt all you want, but cops just need a Sting Ray and they can listen to all your phone conversations, etc. It's really easy. I don't know why, but I'm continually astonished when I remind colleagues - well-educated people - that the NSA can turn on your phone and listen to you even when it's "off": they don't believe me, and I have to send them articles to prove it.

Perhaps I have an antiquated notion of personal privacy?

The cops wearing cameras: how many have been fired or convicted of indiscriminate murder because of those vests?

Rushkoff is right, but it's still an asymmetrical situation right now. I hope you're right and the deck gets shuffled soon, but what will that look like? I would think it would look like a lot less desperate/poor people, for a start.

Bobby Campbell said...

Right on, OG!

I don't disagree with any of that at all, the proverbial cup, like the mighty Tao, seems to me equally empty and equally filled.

Thanks and best wishes!

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