By A. Peter Bailey
When reading about the knashing of teeth about government surveillance by members of the press in the AP and James Rosen cases and of Americans in general by the National Security Agency my first reaction is, “What goes around comes around.”
I don’t recall any overwrought weeping and wailing from the press or the American public when, throughout the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, government agencies, most notably the FBI and CIA, conducted destructive privacy-invading surveillance against those involved in the human rights and civil rights movements for equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity in this country.
I know this from my personal experiences as a Malcolmite and from those of others whom I knew. Master researcher, Paul Lee, provided me with a set of the FBI files on the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a secular organization founded by Brother Malcolm X after his departure from the Nation of Islam. The first page of the files noted for that “The individual members of the OAAU referred to in this report as having some official position therein, and of which the Bureau is not aware are:” It then lists seven names alphabetically by last name. Mine was the first one listed. Following the listing of names, the file continued “All of the above mentioned individuals are currently under investigation by the NYO (New York Office) at this time…” We were not surprised by the government surveillance because Brother Malcolm had warned us to be prepared for it if we joined him in the struggle against white supremacy.
It was later that I found out that members of my family were also targeted. A brother-in-law in the U.S. Army lost his security clearance for one year because he was married to one of my sisters. A niece, as late as 1985, who was scheduled for assignment as a communications technician in the Pentagon, was instead assigned to Puerto Rico after being questioned about her being related to me. These are just two examples of invasive government surveillance in action.
The general American public probably had at least some knowledge about what was going on. I am sure that members of the press were aware of the pervasiveness of such surveillance. Yet, with rare exceptions, there were no loud expressions of outrage about the invasion of privacy or violation of the Fourth Amendment when extensive surveillance by the FBI, CIA and other government agencies basically derailed the human rights and civil rights movements. What is going on now is lightweight compared to what happened then. Targeted people not only lost their privacy. Surveillance against those in the two movements resulted in some people being killed. Some were brutalized; others were imprisoned. Some lost jobs; others were denied employment.
So don’t expect those of us who experienced that to get all bothered because of what is currently happening. We regard it as a case of surveillance operatives coming home to roost.