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The FBI: America's Secret Police

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Secret police. Secret courts. Secret government agencies. Surveillance. Intimidation tactics. Harassment. Torture. Brutality. Widespread corruption. Entrapment schemes.

These are the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime from the Roman Empire to modern-day America, yet it's the secret police--tasked with silencing dissidents, ensuring compliance, and maintaining a climate of fear--who sound the death knell for freedom in every age.

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Every regime has its own name for its secret police: Mussolini's OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials. Stalin's NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror and depopulation. Hitler's Gestapo went door to door ferreting out dissidents and other political "enemies" of the state. And in the U.S., it's the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Indeed, a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers, the government's henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.

Case in point: the FBI is being sued after its agents, lacking sufficient evidence to acquire a search warrant, disabled a hotel's internet and then impersonated Internet repair technicians in order to gain access to a hotel suite and record the activities of the room's occupants. Justifying the warrantless search as part of a sting on internet gambling, FBI officials insisted that citizens should not expect the same right to privacy in the common room of a hotel suite as they would at home in their bedroom.

Far from being tough on crime, FBI agents are also among the nation's most notorious lawbreakers. In addition to procedural misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, the FBI's laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, and harassment.

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For example, the Associated Press recently lodged a complaint with the Dept. of Justice after learning that FBI agents created a fake AP news story and emailed it, along with a clickable link, to a bomb threat suspect in order to implant tracking technology onto his computer and identify his location. To those familiar with COINTELPRO, an FBI program created to "disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize" groups and individuals the government considers politically objectionable, it should come as no surprise that the agency has mastered the art of government disinformation.

The FBI has been particularly criticized in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for targeting vulnerable individuals and not only luring them into fake terror plots but actually equipping them with the organization, money, weapons and motivation to carry out the plots--entrapment--and then jailing them for their so-called terrorist plotting. This is what the FBI characterizes as "forward leaning--preventative--prosecutions."

Another fallout from 9/11, National Security Letters allow the FBI to secretly demand that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands. An internal audit found the use of NFLs to be riddled with widespread violations.

The FBI's surveillance capabilities, on a par with the National Security Agency, boast a nasty collection of spy tools ranging from Stingray devices that can track the location of cell phones to Triggerfish devices which allow agents to eavesdrop on phone calls. Now the FBI is seeking to expand its already invasive hacking powers to allow agents to hack into any computer, anywhere in the world.

And then there's James Comey, current director of the FBI, who believes that the government's powers shouldn't be limited, especially when it comes to carrying out surveillance on American citizens. Comey has been lobbying Congress and the White House to force technology companies such as Apple and Google to provide the government with backdoor access to Americans' cell phones.

If it were just about fighting the "bad guys," that would be one thing. But as countless documents make clear, the FBI has a long track record of abusing its extensive powers and employing tactics used effectively by former authoritarian regimes. In fact, as historian Robert Gellately documents, the Nazi police state was repeatedly touted as a model for other nations to follow, so much so that Hoover actually sent one of his right-hand men, Edmund Patrick Coffey, to Berlin in January 1938 at the invitation of Germany's secret police.

Indeed, so impressed was the FBI with the Nazi order that in the decades after WW II, the FBI aggressively recruited at least a thousand Nazis, brought them to America, put them on the payroll, and then carried out a massive cover-up campaign to ensure that their ties to Hitler's holocaust machine would remain unknown.

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So not only have American taxpayers have been paying to keep ex-Nazis on the government payroll for decades but we've been subjected to the very same tactics used by the Third Reich: surveillance, militarized police, overcriminalization, and a government mindset that views itself as operating outside the bounds of the law.

Yet as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it's no coincidence that the similarities between the American police state and past totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany grow more pronounced with each passing day. This is how freedom falls, and tyrants come to power.

Suffice it to say that when and if a true history of the FBI is ever written, it will not only track the rise of the American police state but it will also chart the decline of freedom in America: how a nation that once abided by the rule of law and held the government accountable for its actions has steadily devolved into a police state where justice is one-sided, a corporate elite runs the show, representative government is a mockery, police are extensions of the military, surveillance is rampant, privacy is extinct, and the law is little more than a tool for the government to browbeat the people into compliance.

 

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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