SUSPECTS AND SUSPICIONS
You are being watched. Criminals design our lifestyles. Their actions decide how communities should be planned to avert criminal activity. Their actions dictate how we will protect ourselves, our privacy, and our desire to enjoy our life in public. Human history is ripe with distrust, fear, and suspicion:
The Spanish Inquisition The Salem Witch Hunts The Red Scare
The McCarthy Era The Cold War
Even now, perhaps especially now, everyone is considered guilty and we all must prove our own innocence. Because of the crimes of a few, the barriers we face every day have increased tenfold. Even the most mundane chores, like checking one’s bank account, are now onerous and riddled with uncertainty. Gone is the feeling of safety and security that many of us grew up with; now minor daily tasks require passwords and multiple security questions. The simple act of making sure the front door is locked has been replaced with a series of alarms, cameras, and third parties that we pay to protect our identities and belongings. Supermarkets have police presences and metal detectors standing sentinel by the front doors. You cannot enter a bank without finding bullet-proof glass between you and the teller. “Stop and frisks” are on the rise. Personal searches and bag checks for admittance to a public place or aircraft is now considered a normal - and expected - invasion of our personal space. The accuracy of information we receive from all sources is questionable at best. Truth is hard to come by.
My new volume of artworks is based on these observations of a changed society. These latest artworks use symbolism to illustrate how the ubiquitous presence of suspicion and the act of being a suspect have both become a way of life. Adults and children are shown as generic solid shapes with parts missing to indicate loss of identity and the relinquishing of certain rights. The watchful eye of authority is always present as a complete figure dressed in black. Shutters, doors, and other shapes are blinds which people hide behind to observe and report on suspicious activities. All of the figures have a red dot to symbolize the human heart; how we are all connected. This red dot also represents being a target or a person of interest. Overall, this latest series creates a surreal flow of images, colors, and shapes blending into a beautiful and poignant work of art.
Here is historical information which illustrates the birth of surveillance and dwindling right to privacy we now live in.
We have arrived at a society of distrust, fear, surveillance, invasion of privacy and the loss of rights.
There is a need for the intelligence communities to operate. Foreign and domestic threats are real. For over a century in addition to taking action against real threats to the lives of American citizens, bureaus and agencies within the U.S. government have surveilled those who have expressed what is referred to as "strong political views that run counter to the prevailing government political paradigm".
Surveillance is being conducted by our government to collect and use private and sensitive data about us. Surveillance is essential to law enforcement and to national security. The history of surveillance includes abuses where this sensitive information has been used against people because of their race, their national origin, their sexual orientation and their political beliefs. Both parties of the government are in support of surveillance on public and private citizens. At the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover ran a program called COINTELPRO for 15 years which was designed to spy on and undermine civic groups that were devoted to things like civil rights, The Women's Rights Movement, peace groups and anti-war movements.
1908 saw the start of political spying lasting through 1919 when the first Red Scare occurred. The Bureau of Investigation creates "The Radical Division" and compiles 200,000 files on suspected radicals creating 40 raids across the Unites States. Some rounded up were simply because they were foreign, or members of a labor union, with 249 resident aliens put on a boat and deported to Russia because of their alleged beliefs.
1929 sees the end of a ten year long intelligence program called "The Black Chamber". U.S. Telegraph companies provided the Black Chamber with incoming and outgoing cable traffic. Former president William Howard Taft, joins the Supreme Court and approves wire tapping for the next 40 years using a description which essentially states that "the ends justifies the means" to by-pass the 4th Amendment. Political spying ends from roughly the early 20's until 1936 when Franklin Roosevelt requests that it be resumed. J. Edgar Hoover is appointed to head the Bureau of Investigation. FDR is concerned about Soviet spies and Fascists. There are several U.S. based groups like The American Nazi Party they are large enough to hold a rally in Madison Square Garden.
1939 the F.B.I is authorized to investigate espionage, treason and sabotage and Hoover adds to that list subversive activities and it becomes unclear as to how far Hoover would go. Hoover attempted to have every person in America fingerprinted, but this does not come to pass. 1936 the A.C.L.U complains about Pacifist groups that don't want to go to war in Europe. FDR writes that he sees nothing wrong with investigating groups that spread false information and engage in false teachings. FDR uses the F.B.I. to look into his political opponents asking for investigations Hoover learns he has gained expanded power to let all the politicians know that he has information on all of them. 1956 the F.B.I. goes on the offensive with COINTELPRO a program specifically designed to target the Communist Party of America and eventually dissolve the party. "Hoodwink" was created by the F.B.I. to lure the Mafia with fake correspondence describing tactics directed by the Soviets to clean up the gangsters presence, it never worked. Martin Luther King was an F.B.I. target claiming him to be communist, and bugging his room presenting him with copies of taped recordings and a letter flooded with derogatory hateful statements ending by persuading him to commit suicide.
1965 - 1967 President Johnson clamps down on wire tapping suggesting it should be formally outlawed, the Supreme Court agrees and makes the point that a warrant must be supplied including many details about the search, seizure and relevance to the need. Congress follows suit in 1968 but this does not stop COINTELPRO. This secret branch continues to target confrontational groups including the Black Panther Party which it helps destroy with informants, misinformation and violence.
The American Indian Movement ends with a violent in a 1971 siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The F.B.I. also goes after the New Left and the Ku Klux Klan successfully undermining both. 1975 Watergate revelations prompts the creation of a Special Congressional Committee to investigate the Intelligence Community. The secret Pentagon Papers were released proving that the government has known all along that the Vietnam War was largely hopeless and has been lying to the public about that for years. There has been no intelligence reform despite rumors that the F.B.I. had data banks on U.S. citizens and have used information on members of Congress as blackmail for budgets and policies and military disasters like the Bay of Pigs invasion supported by the C.I.A. Oversight committees exist in the chambers House Armed Services Committee but they have done nothing. The F.B.I. had files on over 1,000,000 Americans, investigated 500,000 of them from 1960 to 1974 people suspected of subversion which produced zero court convictions. The National Security Agency investigated every cable sent or received by Americans overseas from 1947 to 1975. The IRS allowed tax information to be used by intelligence agencies for political purposes. President Johnson ordered the CIA to spy on antiwar protesters believing that the Soviets or Chinese had to be behind these uprisings. This is a direct violation of the CIA's charter which prohibits it from conducting domestic intelligence operations. This was called Operation Chaos which indexed 300,000 names with in-depth files on over 7000 people. No evidence of foreign direction found for any of them. Historical lesson, Anti-fascist and anti-Communist paranoia dealt momentum that led to the famous second Red Scare, later McCarthyism and it doesn't end with McCarthy's public downfall, instead it carries through to the civil rights movements and antiwar movement of the 60's and 70's.
In the 80's the F.B.I. investigates the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, and subverts it. These are folks opposed to Reagans policy in Central America. The F.B.I. spies on Occupy Wall Street, Code Pink, Burning Man. The terrorist attack in 2001 is a huge impetus to reboot this kind of program driven by fear. Fear becomes the catalyst to act quickly, abruptly, regardless of legalities which the consequences will be dealt with later. After 9/11, the NSA begins collecting the metadata of every phone call in the U.S. from major carriers including internet communications. 2005 - 2006 the NSA performs illegal wiretapping and it remains a secret until exposed by Edward Snowden. The Department of Justice determines that it's illegal and Bush decides to raise the level regardless, and only the threatened resignation of then F.B.I. director Robert Mueller and acting Attorney General James Comey keeps him from doing so. However the FISA court approves it, now it's legal.
Within the African-American community, the suspicion lingers that Dr. King was set up to be assassinated. The suspicion that the CIA intentionally introduced heroin then crack into the community to destroy it from within. The F.B.I. did in fact infiltrate civil rights organizations in an attempt to destroy them through nefarious and sometimes violent means.
And yet how uncomfortable and suspicious are we when we carry tracking devices everywhere we go? Facial identification is here and becoming more and more the way of life. Police wear body cameras, those cameras can be used to record our private residences. These body cameras will soon have facial recognition.
( still a work in progress, more to come)