By Dave Lindorff
Police State USA: Houston Fusion Ctr (l) and militarized cops ( by ThisCantBeHappening!)
The latest news on the burgeoning police state in the US -- a page-one investigative report in the New York Times disclosing that at least 40 agencies of the US government from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Supreme Court (!) are using undercover agents to spy on and even to entrap law-abiding American citizens -- suggests that we have passed the tipping point.
One can no longer speak in terms of the US as a country that is moving towards becoming a police state. We are living in a police state.
The Times reports that IRS personnel have been going undercover posing as accountants and even as physicians to root out tax fraud, that the Supreme Court has been dispatching some of its guards (all of whom have been trained in undercover work) "dressed down" in civilian clothes to mingle with protesters (notably abortion-rights activists) to spy on the activists exercising their First Amendment rights outside the court building, that the USDA sends out agents posing as Food Stamp recipients to try and entrap shop-owners to commit Food Stamp fraud, and that even NASA and the Smithsonian Institution have undercover operatives. Undercover cops and agents are assuming the identities of teachers, doctors, journalists and even priests.
This information has to be put together with the rampant militarization of local police forces, who have become an occupying army, and with the proliferation of spying activities by state and local police agencies, encouraged by the establishment by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security of myriad "Joint Anti-Terrorism Strike Forces, and of 76 so-called Fusion Centers. These latter are totally unregulated operations that meld the spying activities of state and local cops and the myriad three-lettered intelligence units of the federal government, as well as private corporate security units, with no specific agency assuming oversight responsibility.
I used to scoff at the wild-eyed claims made by people on the right and left who said that we were living in a police state. Having lived for a year and a half in China, where a police state has been operating now for 65 years, and having visited police states in Eastern Europe during the days of the Soviet Union, I have seen and experienced what life is like when the police, secret and overt, run rampant, and I knew the US was not like those places.
I've changed my mind, though. The only difference I see now, knowing what we know about the breadth and depth of police activity in the US, between what's happening here and what happens in places where police states have long existed, is that in long-standing police states, everyone knows they are being watched and are subject to arbitrary arrest. while here in the US, many Americans remain blissfully ignorant of what has happened to their vaunted freedoms.
You don't know you are in a newly established police state until you deliberately or inadvertently cross a line. That's why we still have people in this country thanking people in uniform for "defending our freedom," when we've actually already lost them (in no small part thanks to the state of perpetual war our politicians have been orchestrating).
Even in China, I didn't realize the extent of the police state there until I once made a trip to the countryside to visit a peasant village at the invitation of a Chinese friend who was a lawyer and vice director of a local radio station. The day I arrived at his city on a flight from Hong Kong, while having dinner at my friend's house, a police officer came to his apartment door. This cop, a former law student of my friend's, said he had come to warn his old teacher that as a foreigner I could not stay the night at his house, and that I'd have to go instead to a designated hotel. He also said I would need to go to a meeting at the Public Security Bureau the next morning. He urged my friend to "be careful."
I left after dinner, checked into the specified hotel, and sure enough, the next morning, a uniformed officer from China's ministry of state security came to my room and politely escorted me to headquarters. As I walked into the building, I saw, to my surprise and dismay, my friend seated in another room, across a table from another officer. I was brought into the main office, a well-appointed room with comfortable lounge chairs and a glass-topped tea table. A ranking officer came in and politely offered me tea and cigarettes. Then he began asking me why I was in town.
I explained that I had met my friend in the US when he was a visiting legal scholar, and had shown him and his family around the region, and that he was now returning the favor to me, showing me around his home town. He said, "But you are planning to go out and visit a village in the countryside, aren't you?"
I replied that I was, and said that I did not believe that this was a restricted area.
He said, "But you are a journalist."
I agreed, but noted that I had just recently spent a year as a teacher at Shanghai's Fudan University at the invitation of the Chinese central government's Ministry of Education, and that during that whole year I was in the country as a "friend of China" on a regular visa. I added that I was currently in China not to write an article as a journalist, but as a tourist visiting a Chinese friend. I added for good measure that I was surprised that there was any concern about a foreigner seeing what great strides were being made in reforming agriculture and increasing peasant incomes.
He was not satisfied. He said if I was a journalist, then I must have a journalist's visa in China. (This was not correct. Both before and after this incident, I have traveled to China on a tourist visa with no difficulty.)