Let me tell you a little story... a true story.
One day I went off to the post office where my group had a PO box to pick up the day's mail. We got a lot of mail, mostly contributions from supporters. So much mail in fact that the PO box would not hold it all, so we usually just found a note in the box to come to the counter window where we'd be given the mail in a large flat box.
That day the clerk looked around and, when sure the coast was clear, gestured that I should lean towards him. He whispered something to me. He said that the FBI had been requesting all our mail be handed to them before it was given to us. They weren't opening it, apparently, but rather scanning the return addresses.
A week later I was at home in my SF apartment and noticed that, after the postman put my mail in the box, two guys in suits who had been sitting in a nondescript Ford Galaxy got out, went up to my mail box, removed the mail and calmly began copying down the return addresses on the envelopes.
Back at our modest office, we already were fully aware that our phones were being monitored. But mail monitoring was a new wrinkle.
Oh, sorry, I need to stop here and orient you. I'm not talking about the current NSA revelations. I am talking about 1968. Back I was part of a group that organized all of the Bay Area's antiwar rallies - the Vietnam War for you youngsters. Back then the guys in charge of all this snooping were Richard Nixon and that chubby little cross-dresser, FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover.
My point being, we've been here before. But I never dreamed we would be. That we never again could be. That we'd learned our lesson back then; that, wholesale snooping on ordinary Americans not only violates the core principles we as a nation claim as our patrimony, but also doesn't work.
I know first hand that it doesn't work because, back then, the snoops got us wrong... entirely wrong.
I know that because, back then we had our own Edward Snowdens. They weren't computer hackers back then, but rather the clerks... the men and women bureaucracies cannot operate without. Then, as now, these are the faceless folk, the worker bees who the higher ups don't know, don't care to know and don't even think about. They just fill desks, push papers and generally keep things moving along.
Among that army of clerks the simple law of averages dictated that some percentage would share sympathies with us and our antiwar efforts. And some did. And, like Snowden, they shared.
Back then it wasn't electronic files of course, but carbons. The military was particularly fond of producing multiple carbon copies of everything, including teletype intel reports. And some of those carbon copies ended up being sent to us by sympathetic clerks, which is why I know just how wrong they were about who we were, what we were, what we wanted and who was calling the shots.
For example, in one of the first teletypes provided to us by an Army intel clerk at a local Army base, we learned that the government code name for our coalition of groups (which by the way were actually "New Mobilization for Peace" and the GI Association "The Marionettes." They even explained why they'd chosen that monicker for us; because they believed we were being controlled "from Moscow."
Which was absurd since, frankly, we were too far to the left for the Soviets. I know that because, one day we got a call from the SF office of Pravda. They asked if they could send a couple of reporters over to interview us about an upcoming peace march we were organizing. We said sure. Why not.
A few minutes later two guys walked dressed like the Blues Brothers; black suits, white shirts, black ties, shinny black shoes, black fedora felt hats. They stopped dead in the tracks as they scanned the small room, filled with - well hippies - beards, sandals, long hair, a whiff of pot hanging in the air. The two looked at each other and fled... fled I tell ya. They couldn't get out of there fast enough. And that's the one and only almost-contact we ever had with the Russians. We all got a good laugh out of that. Turned out the Soviets were even straighter than Nixon folks.
Nevertheless, here we are, 45-years later and look at what we've learned just in the last couple of months:
- Our government is monitoring all our private phone traffic - again
- Our government is monitoring our Internet usage - again
- Our government is scanning all our First Class mail - again.
Oh, you didn't know about the mail thing? That little tale came out yesterday. And again, some clerk - on purpose or by mistake - blew the secret: