Obama on Government Surveillance: "The same way it's always been..."

July 7, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


In the wake of Edward Snowden's exposure of massive government surveillance by the U.S. on people in this country and around the world, Barack Obama appeared on the Charlie Rose Show June 17. Obama attempted to reassure the audience: "If you are a U.S. person the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls and the NSA cannot target your e-mails. They cannot and have not—by law and by rule. And unless they—and usually it wouldn't be they, it would be the FBI—go to a court and obtain a warrant and seek probable cause. The same way it's always been..."

The "same way it's always been"—surveillance by the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement agencies—is that massive spying on people has been used to carry out brutal repressive violence. A case in point: Wounded Knee.

In the spring of 1973, hundreds of Native American people and their supporters went to Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota to demand an end to murderous attacks by police and government agents, and that the U.S. government honor its treaties granting Native people land and self-government. They were besieged by over 300 agents of the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Marshals, and Justice Department and various local and state police. The Indians defended themselves and held off the government forces for 71 days of siege.

As Native Americans in cities and reservations around the country aligned with the American Indian Movement (AIM), and the group's actions compelled many others to learn about and oppose the historic crimes this country committed against Native Americans, FBI surveillance became intense. The FBI produced 18,000 pages of internal reports on the history and internal organization of AIM, its leadership, and relationships with other organizations and movements for change, with particular focus on the role of revolutionaries and communists. FBI documents from the time reveal that they somehow gained possession of internal AIM fundraising materials which were carefully itemized. A widespread network of government surveillance monitored AIM activities and the activities of people who spoke out in defense of AIM (like attorney William Kunstler, whose speeches were recorded by the FBI).

Victims of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, where the U.S. Seventh Cavalry killed as many as 300 Lakota Indians, including children.

Victims of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, where the U.S. Seventh Cavalry killed as many as 300 Lakota Indians, including children. Photo: Library of Congress

All this FBI surveillance, with or without warrants, was used to carry out vicious repression. After the end of the 71-day armed stand-off, the FBI and other police agencies unleashed a reign of terror on the reservation. About 1,200 people were arrested. At least two American Indian Movement members were killed and another activist disappeared. Leonard Peltier was arrested for allegedly shooting two FBI agents during this warlike period. He denied the charges, and the informant whose testimony helped lead to his conviction later said the FBI coerced her into lying. Nevertheless, Peltier remains in prison with no prospect of release.

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The "same way it's always been..." All this surveillance that Obama has taken to new depths has always been about CONTROLLING everyone's activity, communications, and thinking, and bringing the full power of the government's repressive apparatus down on anyone or any movement that challenges the system of global exploitation and oppression.

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