SNITCH CULTURE: LIVING IN THE SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY
Sun Nov 16 16:02:12 2003
HOW CITIZENS ARE TURNED INTO THE EYES AND EARS OF THE STATE
LIVING IN THE SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY
As American enters the New Millennium, this country is in the grip of a
government-created surveillance system which permeates every aspect of our
lives. The economy is booming and things couldnıt be better for the vast
majority of citizens. Serious crime is at a 30-year low, with murder and other
violent felonies dropping in every region of the nation. Minorities are earning
more than ever before, and the schools have never been safer. And yet, despite
this good news, large segments of the population live in fear - a fear created
and exploited by opportunistic politicians and power-hungry law enforcement
officials to justify the most sophisticated police state ever created.
And at the heart of this nightmare is the snitch, the government's weapon of
choice against criminals and law-abiding citizens alike. People gather
incriminating information on us even before weıre born. Pregnant women are
routinely tested to see if theyıve exposed their fetuses to alcohol or illegal
drugs, with doctors reporting "drug affected" babies to social service and law
If we enroll in the public schools, we are spied on by other students, our
teachers, and our counselors. Many schools provide anonymous telephone tip lines
for students to squeal on their classmates. A growing number of school
administrators are paying for incriminating information. Teachers and counselors
are encouraged to report students with "anti-social tendencies" to the police.
Reports of typical juvenile schoolyard behavior now result in suspensions,
expulsions and arrests.
College campuses are riddled with informants. Politically active teachers are
monitored by students who oppose their views. Student political organizations
are infiltrated by undercover operatives gathering information on controversial
campus speakers and upcoming demonstrations. Foreign students are targeted for
surveillance, especially Muslims of Arab ethnicity.
Informants track us after we graduate and enter the workforce. Many potential
employers run background checks on job applicants, asking friends and neighbors
about their private lives. Some bosses hire undercover agents who pose as
workers and spy on everyone in the company, reporting on everything from
suspected thieves to employees with poor morale. If we own a business, the
government might send over fake customers to see if they can trick us into
breaking civil rights laws. These so-called "testers" report our reactions to
federal officials who can assess fines or even throw us in jail.
Our neighbors are encouraged to spy on us. If our children cry, they report us
to social workers for abuse. If we have a large number of visitors, they call
the police and accuse us of dealing drugs. If we drive a new car, they call the
Internal Revenue Service and say we're not paying our taxes.
Family members routinely turn each other in to the police, especially for
illegal drug use. Encouraged by government snitch programs, children rat on
their parents, parents squeal on their kids, and children report their siblings
to the authorities. Wives and husbands turn on each other in divorce
proceedings, triggering criminal investigations by accusing their former mates
of everything from domestic violence to child abuse to hiding their assets.
Unconventional political and religious movements are also infiltrated by
snitches. Law enforcement agencies and private, politically-oriented advocacy
groups spy on liberal and conservative organizations alike, along with tiny
churches and obscure religious sects. No group is too small or inconsequential
to escape the prying eye of the government or its agents.
Discussions with doctors and lawyers are no longer confidential. Government
regulations require doctors to report patients with HIV and other contagious
diseases to health authorities. Medicare recipients who suspect their doctors
are padding their bills are encouraged to report them to Washington bureaucrats.
Lawyers have gone to jail for not telling the feds which clients are paying with
The intrusions don't even stop when we die. Government agencies routinely ask
doctors if drugs, both legal and illegal, contributed to the death. Physicians
must report whether their deceased patients smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol.
Passengers who die in car crashes are tested for alcohol, with the results
transmitted to transportation officials for their reports on alcohol-related
traffic fatalities. Police use the results of such tests to justify their own
brutality, arguing that unarmed people they kill were drunk or stoned.
Obeying the law is no protection against informants. Snitches frequently set
people up, tricking them into breaking the law. Or they simply lie, making up
stories and swearing to events that never happened. Criminals routinely perjure
themselves in exchange for special treatment, sending innocent people to jail
and even Death Row. Many people have lost their jobs, been thrown out of their
homes, gone to jail - even lost their lives - because of lies told by
We're so used to being tracked that we donıt even notice how often we're being
urged to report our friends, neighbors, family members and complete strangers to
the authorities. A billboard in Harlem asks citizens to join "Gunbusters
Anonymous" and report "illegal guns" to the New York Police Department.
Neighborhood "crime watch" programs send thousands of people into the streets
every night to look for "suspicious activity." Newspapers across the country
publish weekly "Crime Stopper" stories, running descriptions and photographs of
people wanted by law enforcement authorities. Public service announcements on
late night television urge neighbors to "take a bite out of crime" by watching
each other. Police officers visit the public schools, telling children to report
their friends and parents for suspected drug use. Wanted posters in post
officers are so common we look right past them.
Snitching has become entertainment, a growing staple of network and cable TV
channels. America's Most Wanted serves up a half-dozen new suspects every week,
using hokey crime re-creations to make us pick up the phone and report anyone
who even resembles the actors and actress parading across the screen. Tabloid
programs such as The Jerry Springer Show use informants to shame their guests,
exposing hidden love affairs and embarrassing personal faults for our amusement.
Cheating husbands and two-timing wives are physically attacked on stage when
their darkest secrets are revealed by vengeful ex-lovers, the studio audience
roaring its approval like the Coliseum crowds of ancient Rome.
More recently, "reality-based" TV shows such as Survivor and Big Brother offer
up round-the-clock surveillance for our amusement. The constant monitoring is
said to reveal the true character of the people in stressful situation. Viewers
vote on who they donıt like, punishing unpopular participants with digital
But the modern surveillance society is not a passing form of entertainment. And
its consequences are far more severe than any passing humiliation. Our most
personal information is now being fed directly into a massive system of
interlocking computer databases maintained by government agencies, law
enforcement officials, for-profit businesses and private intelligence networks.
Our school, employment, medical, psychiatric, banking, credit, automobile,
housing, TV viewing, computer use and gun ownership records are all stored
electronically by people weıve never met, accessible at the stroke of a computer
And now the government is adding our DNA, the unique genetic code found in our
every cell, to their files. All 50 states have laws requiring that DNA samples
be taken from convicted criminals and sent to the National Offender Database
maintained by the FBI. By May 2000, about 280,000 samples had been placed online
and another 750,000 were still waiting to be processed. Some politicians are
already pushing for DNA samples to be taken from anyone merely arrested for a
crime. How long will it be before everyoneıs DNA is simply tested at birth? And
what will happen if a lab researcher tells the government our genes say we're
Such tips can trigger a broad range of responses by federal, state and local
authorities, from home visits by child care and mental health specialists to
deadly raids by heavily-armed SWAT units. Governments have spent billions of
dollars in recent years militarizing local police departments across the
country, and creating special federal units with overwhelming firepower. They
are all ready and waiting for an informant to send them on their next mission.
The result of all this snitching has been boiled down to a simple bumpersticker
that can be seen on cars and trucks in all 50 state: "I love my country, but
fear my government."
The Snitch Culture did not come about by accident. It was deliberately created
by Democrats and Republicans alike, working with federal, state and local law
enforcement officials to build a nationwide intelligence-gathering network which
is impossible to escape. This surveillance system did not spring to life
overnight. It was assembled in pieces over the past century in reaction to one
manufactured threat to the American way of life after another, each requiring
new laws, new law enforcement agencies, and new informants to enforce. Our
political and law enforcement leaders repeatedly seize on bizarre but isolated
incidents to create the image of a country under attack from all sides. The
threats have ranged over the years from anarchists to marijuana to Communists to
heroin to Muslims to methamphetamine to white supremacists, but in each case the
governmentıs response has been the same - a new domestic war. The War on Crime.
The War on Drugs. The War on Terrorism. The War on Youth Violence.
The establishment press plays along with the charade, creating a parallel
universe where death and destruction waits around every corner. With the advent
of satellite trucks and 24-hour news channels, the result is a constant media
bombardment of ever greater dangers, all requiring us to spy on our neighbors,
friends and family members.
President Bill Clinton exploited the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to channel
hundreds of millions of dollars to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to
greatly expand its domestic political surveillance programs. The FBI opened a
new counter-terrorism center and established a series of multi-jurisdictional
task forces, working with state and local authorities to gather intelligence on
suspected dissidents in their regions. The far right neo-Patriot movement was
the original target but, by the end of the decade, the government had shifted
its focus to the left-leaning anti-globalization movement that debuted at the
World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.
The Columbine High School massacre became an excuse for Americaıs public school
students, teachers, counselors and administrators to turn on any child who
didn't fit in. Within hours of the shootings, the press was running in-depth
reports about homicidal teenagers raised on a corrosive diet of morbid goth
music, violent video games and blood-drenched movies - an entire generation of
young people with no regard for human life. Clinton went on national television
and urged students across the country to report any classmates who seemed
anti-social. Hundreds if not thousands of students were suspended, expelled and
even arrested for typical adolescent behavior, or for bringing something as
innocuous as nail clippers to class.
The message is clear: Americans must spy on each other, reporting all signs of
suspicious activity or aberrant behavior to the authorities. And if the people
won't tattle, the government will monitor their every waking moment anyway.
Video cameras line the freeways. Bank transactions are monitored. Even our
computers are being used against us, collecting and sending personal information
through private companies to federal law enforcement agencies.
The ultimate symbol of this power is Echelon, a massive system of space age
listening devices and supercomputers maintained by the U.S. governmentıs top
secret National Security Agency. Created over the course of the Cold War,
Echelon is an information vacuum cleaner which can monitor virtually every phone
call, e-mail, fax, radio transmission, television broadcast, and other form of
electronic communication in the world today. Legal concepts such as the right to
privacy are a joke to this computer-driving monitoring system which can
eavesdrop on practically everyone at the same time.
The result is a society driven by manufactured mass paranoia, where personal
betrayal is seen as a virtue instead of the lowest form of human behavior. And
as the 21st Century begins to unfold, this perverse version of reality is being
exported around the world. Seamless global surveillance is the ultimate goal.
All it takes is a tip from a snitch to make you a target.
SNITCH CULTURE IS HERE!
Feral House has just released the most important new book of the 21st Century -
SNITCH CULTURE: HOW CITIZENS ARE TURNED INTO THE EYES AND EARS OF THE STATE.
Researched and written by award-winning reporter Jim Redden, SNITCH CULTURE
reveals how politicians, law enforcement agencies, private corporations,
politically-oriented non-profit organizations, and the establishment media are
working together to build the most sophisticated surveillance society in
history. SNITCH CULTURE traces the creation of this intelligence-gathering
network from the earliest paid informants to todayıs DNA databases and beyond.
SNITCH CULTURE covers such important developments as the Red Scare, the Federal
Bureau of Investigationıs infamous Counter-Intelligence Programs (COINTELPRO),
the National Security Agencyıs high-tech ECHELON surveillance system, and
Project Megiddo, which incorrectly predicted a wave of domestic terrorism at the
beginning of the year 2000. The 235-page book also includes a look at the
governmentıs newest intelligence initiative - the war against the emerging
SNITCH CULTURE (ISBN: 0-922915-63-6) is now available at local bookstores, from
Amazon.com, and from Feral House, 2554 Lincoln Blvd., Suite 739, Venice CALIF
90291. It retails for $14.95.
Jim Redden is a professional journalist who has written for such diverse
publications as the Village Voice and Hustler. He has written about anarchists,
militias, skinheads and radical AIDS activists. Redden is currently the Senior
Staff Writer for the Portland Tribune newspaper in Portland, Oregon. He can be
reached at email@example.com .
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