Obama’s Secret Police

Well, we can relax, because the bad old days of the Bush administration, when government agencies routinely spied on the antiwar movement and other dissidents, are over — right? 

Wrong – very wrong. 

The indispensable Amy Goodman has the scoop: The Seattle Port Militarization Resistance (SPMR) group in Washington state thought their listserv coordinator, who went by the name "John Jacob," was one of them: a dedicated antiwar activist and self-described anarchist. They trusted him, they put him in a key position, they befriended him – and then they found out that he was a government informant.  

His real name: John Towery (here‘s his myspace page, and here is a photo). He claimed to be a civilian employee at Washington state’s Ft. Lewis: in reality, he was and is a functionary of the force protection unit, i.e. military personnel. His job: spying on the antiwar movement.

Towery was "outed" when one of SPMR’s members filed a public records request in the city of Olympia for any documents, including emails, in the city’s possession that referenced communications  between the city police and the military regarding "anything on anarchists, anarchy, anarchism, Students for a Democratic Society or the Industrial Workers of the World,"  as local antiwar activist Brendan Maslauskas Dunn described it to Amy Goodman on her "Democracy Now" program. The results were startling: "I got back hundreds of documents from the city."

It was in going through this material that he and his fellow activists discovered the truth about "John Jacob":  that he was a spy sent in to keep track of antiwar activity in the area, and a member of the Force Protection Service at Ft. Lewis. His fellow activists confronted him, and, as Dunn stated:

"He admitted to several things. He admitted that, yes, he did in fact spy on us. He did in fact infiltrate us. He admitted that he did pass on information to an intelligence network, which … was composed of dozens of law enforcement agencies, ranging from municipal to county to state to regional, and several federal agencies, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Homeland Security, the Army in Fort Lewis. … He admitted to other things, too. He admitted that the police had placed a camera, surveillance camera, across the street from a community center in Tacoma that anarchists ran called the Pitch Pipe Infoshop. He admitted that there were police that did put a camera up there to spy on anarchists, on activists going there."

Oh, but he had a story: it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, he hadn’t completely betrayed his friends and associates, who had known him since 2007, when he first insinuated himself into local activist circles: because, you see, the Olympia and Tacoma cops had been planning to raid the Pitch Pipe Infoshop, as well as a house in Olympia where many activists lived,  and they wanted their informant to tell them about all the guns, and drugs, and bombs that they imagined – hoped – were stockpiled there. Because, as everyone knows, no self-respecting anarchist is ever without a bomb to throw. "And, of course," says Dunn, "John told them, no, we didn’t have any of that stuff. He told them the truth."

"Of course" is maybe giving Towery too much of the benefit of a doubt: after all, if his friends were arrested, and the anarchist "conspiracy" broken up, his intelligence-gathering activities would be rendered more difficult. Perhaps Dunn is allowing his residual feelings for someone he describes as a former "close friend" get in the way of a more realistic assessment. Towery did his job all too well.

Be that as it may, this incident throws the spotlight on a shadowy national network of domestic spies – in effect, Obama’s political police, who infiltrate dissident groups of whatever sort and send the information back to what are called "fusion centers," part of the new "integrated" approach to fighting our eternal "war on terrorism" — a war that isn’t only being fought on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The enemy is not just the Talibanit’s Americans, too. And we aren’t just talking about the various weirdos and would-be mini-Osama bin Ladens, like John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo. The national hysteria over the alleged threat of "homegrown" terrorism is being stoked to a fever pitch by the latest FBI "catch," a rural North Carolina "terrorist cell" supposedly headed by the proprietor of the local drywall contractor — a former "soldier of fortune" who allegedly fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets by the name of Daniel Patrick Boyd ("also known as Mohammed"), and a good old boy if there ever was one.

The next logical stage in our carefully-stoked national hysteria is to cast the "anti-terrorist" net wider – to include antiwar organizations like SPMR, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which Towery took a particular interest in. The antiwar movement is not a collection of "terrorist cells," and yet that is precisely how the US government is dealing with them: infiltrating and spying on our organizations, planning "raids" on activist gathering places and homes, and no doubt engaging in further disruptive activities yet to be revealed. How is this possible in the land of the free?

It’s possible – and, indeed, inevitable – due to the post-9/11 national security industry that grew up in the wake of 9/11. A vast bureaucracy sprang up around the stream – nay, river – of tax dollars that flowed out of Washington in the wake of the worst terrorist attack on American soil in our history. No expense was spared, no contractor was left behind – and the money spigot has only been opened wider now that Obama and his Keynesian advisors have decreed we must spend our way out of the economic recession. All these people, busily compiling "intelligence" on anything deemed "suspicious," are a police state waiting to be born.

The "fusion centers" are the product of a supposedly "wholistic" theory of intelligence-gathering adopted by the burgeoning Homeland Security bureaucracy in the post-9/11 era, an approach that integrates the personnel and facilities of various government agencies and pools them in designated "fusion centers." Fusing the civilian and the military, the local cop on the beat and the national security bureaucracy, the new apparatus of surveillance and repression is the virtual embodiment of government "work." Unable to get anywhere near Al Qaeda, they have to produce something to justify their funding, and naturally began to broaden the definitional limits of the "terrorist" label to include an ever-widening array of "suspicious" activities. The antiwar movement soon came into their purview, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Towery apparently worked for one such "fusion center," located at Ft. Lewis, where he routinely transmitted information about local antiwar organizations to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including military intelligence, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the immigration authorities. With his intimate knowledge of the politics and personal activities of every key member of the local "radical" scene – quite aside from having the names, addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information of every person on the local antiwar listserv – he was a valuable asset to anyone who wanted to throw a monkey wrench into the works. What every local activist, and anyone who’s ever signed their name to an antiwar petition or attended a meeting, needs to ask themselves is: how many other "John Jacob"s are hanging around – and to what purpose?

It can’t happen here? It has happened here.

You won’t hear or read about this in the "mainstream" media: Amy Goodman’s "Democracy Now" broke the story, and it hasn’t gone much further than that. The reason: the media is in the tank for Obama, and they don’t want to further tarnish his "progressive" credentials. After all, it’s bad enough he’s following the Bushian path on government secrecy, detainee policy, and the unprecedented expansion of presidential power.

Now that the Democrats are in power, they’re for all these things – because, after all, the Good Guys hold the reins.  I can hear the Obama cultists now: They would never spy on the antiwar movement – why, for goodness sakes, most of those antiwar types voted for Obama! And now he’s sent his spies to disrupt their organizations? I don’t believe it!

Yet that, in effect, is what happened: not that the President personally ordered "Agent Orange" – as Towery was known on the listserv – to infiltrate and spy on the Washington antiwar movement. It wasn’t necessary: the "fusion centers" that dot the American landscape are merely doing what spy agencies are supposed to do, and they’re doing the same thing under President Obama that they did under George W.  Bush. Obama hasn’t put a stop to it because he’s fighting an expanded version of the same war, and is loath to let a bunch of left-wing hippies stand in his way.

We have been through this before: go back and read Seymour Hersh’s exposés of government "cointelpro" operations conducted on antiwar activists and other dissidents during the 1970s. The Socialist Workers Party, at one point, had something close to a majority of police agents in its ranks, and the SWP case is a particularly egregious example of what was a widespread phenomenon during that tumultuous era.

It looks to me like we are going back in time, rather than progressing – an odd phenomenon when you consider that there’s an alleged "progressive" in the White House. To get a handle on what’s happening, consider the thoroughly reactionary Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of "eternal recurrence" – with the added fillip that each time some infamous chapter in our history repeats itself, the brazen hypocrisy of the miscreants grows worse.

At least with people like Richard Nixon and J.  Edgar Hoover, we had some kind of ideological consistency and honesty: those guys thought they had the right – and the duty — to carry out their crimes against the Constitution, and didn’t make any bones about it. It’s the "progressives," who claim fealty to civil libertarian values, and yet countenance the Obama administration’s continuation and expansion of the surveillance state, that are the real danger. Because they manage to fool an awful lot of people – the very same people who wrote to me in anger and puzzlement when I first began to take on the Obama-ites. Give him a chance, they whined. He’s only just gotten into office.

Okay, well, he’s had his chance, and he hasn’t taken it. President Obama is presiding over an even wider war than George W. Bush ever dreamed of, and because of that the antiwar movement is a natural target for his spy agencies, whose reach continues to grow. Why any of this is surprising to anyone is beyond me, but then again I’ve not been inducted into the Obama cult.

One wonders what it will take for what passes for the "left" these days to wake up. If I were them, I would heed the words of Murray Rothbard, the great libertarian theorist and onetime ally of the New Left, and apply it to their own movement:

"For the libertarian, the main task of the present epoch is to … discover who his friends and natural allies are, and above all, perhaps, who his enemies are." 

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].