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June 27, 2013

Surveillance - Surprise Is the Most Surprising Thing

By David McBain

Time after time, we catch our authorities deceiving us. We do nothing, mainly because most of the time it seems that others are in the firing line. They say that what they do is for our own good, and we believe them. That's convenient. Yet everyone seems surprised when inevitably our democratic complacency leads to abuses of power.


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It seems digging for dirt, is more beneficial to government than mining for gold - especially now that markets are so blatantly rigged.  I don't know much about precious metals, or dirt for that matter, but I get the impression that government values the latter most.  Maybe that's always been the case. 

I remember, just after Princess Diana died, her erstwhile butler, Paul Burrell, said to a news reporter that The Queen had advised him "there are powers beyond our knowledge". 

"What do you think she meant by that?" The reporter asked. 

Paul looked at him with the expression of a four-year-old who'd just been asked where babies come from.  "I don't know."  He said.  (He mustn't have asked her.)

He epitomised the naivety of the British public.  But we're not only naive; we're also, it seems, determined to stay naive. 

(After this next anecdote, I promise not to bore you with any more.)  Going back to the eighties during the miner's strike, Special Branch and Mi5 were digging up dirt and snooping on trades unionists on an industrial scale and, once the miners were destroyed, the dismantling of people-power was all but assured.  It was the premeditated cornerstone of today's democratic deficit and corporate rule in the UK. 

The BBC did a documentary about the chicanery that went on at that time, some time later, in the nineties.  They wheeled out all the old players in the drama, including politicos looking bemused (similar to Paul Burrell) when asked if they'd ever suspected Special Branch's snooping.  The police chiefs, who'd been politically complicit, made their inevitable denials, claiming their remit was one of maintaining law and order and not at all political. 

Only Arthur Scargill, the astute, straight-talking miners' leader at the time of the struggle, when asked if he was surprised at the revelation that he'd been the subject of police surveillance answered with a sneer. 

"Surprised?"  He retorted.  "I'd be surprised if they hadn't been listening into my phone calls."  (I've had to paraphrase; it's so long ago.)  But wise people have warned of the establishment's propensity for snooping all throughout our history and as George Carlin put it so aptly.  "Nobody seems to notice; nobody seems to care". 

The surprise, in itself, should surprise us more than anything should.  Yet, it appears that governments (and those who manipulate them) place great value on gleaning knowledge about our private lives.  Doesn't anyone wonder why? 

I could get used to privilege too.  I confess I'd be tempted to dream up all kinds of pretexts to maintain any advantages I enjoyed.  Mind you, we have to be careful.  Getting rid of one clique of scoundrels doesn't guarantee that another won't immediately replace it.  I'd be surprised if it worked out otherwise, especially if I had Arthur's sort of intuitive awareness of the ilk that's attracted to power and wealth. 

Yet it's no excuse for democratic complacency.  I imagine we should care for our democracy in the same way we would a well-kept garden - always vigilant, always busy in it - especially now that, due to almost certain inflation, it might soon be our only reliable source of food. 

Well, ordinary folks might wonder why the establishment uses our tax revenues against us in such a way and with so much enthusiasm, but this morning's news might help to elucidate.  (This isn't anecdotal BTW; it's news). 

There's a big stink going on about the police allegedly having tried to dig up the dirt on the family of a black teenager called Stephen Lawrence who was the victim of a brutal racist murder back in 1993.  This incident gave the UK the expression "institutional racism'.  An undercover policeman called Peter Francis spent four years infiltrating protest groups.  Now he's turned whistleblower and tells Channel 4's Dispatches program of how he was part of an operation to dig up the dirt on the murdered teenager's friends and family.  Francis tells of how his superiors wanted him to find evidence that they could use to smear them and thwart their campaign for justice repeatedly denied to Stephen. 

"I had to get any information on what was happening in the Stephen Lawrence campaign." Said Francis.  "They wanted the campaign to stop. It was felt it was going to turn into an elephant.  Throughout my deployment there was almost constant pressure on me personally to find out anything I could that would discredit these campaigns."

Apart from finding that Stephen's friend Duwayne Brooks had been present at a previous demonstration that turned violent - a matter which the judge threw the out of court - Francis' assignment was a complete waste of time and taxpayer's money.  The Lawrence family and friends were only guilty of honest, clean living - (the rotten spoilsports). 

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Jack Straw the Labour Home Secretary at the time said today, "I should have been told of anything that was current, post the election of Tony Blair's government in early May 1997.  But much more importantly, [the] Macpherson inquiry should have been told, and also should have been given access to the results of this long-running and rather expensive undercover operation." 

I always think that the surprise is the most surprising thing about it.  To be fair those with an interest in the matter, whatever that may be, aren't likely to show their true faces to the politicos - especially the genuine ones (if such exist).  Yet we've had Home Secretaries that know nothing of police surveillance; we've Chancellors of the Exchequer who don't know when the economy is heading over a cliff.  Nobody ever seems to be aware of anything nasty until it hits the fan. 

I don't expect butlers to be aware of the sorts of things that are beyond royal knowledge.  I don't expect mothers of murdered teenagers to be anything other than surprised that the police, whose proposed purpose is to protect the public, but who seem more enthusiastic about rifling through their dustbins - metaphorically and actually.  (I promised no more anecdotes.)

There's a young man (it seems it's always the young ones - no doubt because they've longer to live with it than we spineless old codgers).  As I write, he's probably on his way to somewhere in South America.  His life is in limbo.  He might never go home to the USA.  If he does, it'll most likely be under duress, and with dire prospects. 

I bet he was surprised when he found out what his job entailed.  They taught us about neither state-corporate surveillance nor debt-based, fractional reserve banking at my school; no doubt, his school was the same.  But whilst he was doing his job, digging for dirt, he found it. 

Some may find that surprising, but thanks to him and others like him, (albeit too few) there are few excuses left for us to be surprised by the chicaneries of those who are besotted with wealth and power. 

Submitters Bio:

David McBain wants people to read his articles and blogs. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1948, one month before the start of the National Health Service (NHS UK) and fears now that he will outlive its usefulness to future generations. That, along with the constant threat to much of the social progress that ordinary people achieved in the last century, concerns him - and he wants to share his thoughts with others.