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.
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.
Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues and mosques; issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records; using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government, or persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.
Indeed, a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood films noir 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.
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