The Green Scare, PRISM, and the Rise of the Surveillance of Women

17 Jun

from Badass Marxist Feminist

Thanks to radicalrationale.wordpress.com for designing the logo

Thanks to radicalrationale.wordpress.com for designing the logo

For most of the history of US domestic surveillance, efforts have been focused on those who seek to undermine hegemonic power, particularly communists, socialists, black nationalists, civil rights activists, union organizers, peace activists, political opponents of the reigning administration, and, to a predictably lesser extent, white hate groups. Of 92 total confirmed targets of COINTELPRO, 31 were organizations, 44 were men, and 17 were women. Of the 31 organizations, only one was explicitly dedicated to advancing women’s rights. Considering that sexism is alive and well in the left even today, it was certainly exponentially more pervasive before Roe v. Wade and Title IX.Women who belonged to the 31 organizations monitored by COINTELPRO were relegated to subordinate roles; the leaders, officers, and most influential contributors were men. Consequently, men were the primary targets of COINTELPRO and its predecessors, and, I posit, its antecendents until roughly 2001, which ushered in the rise of the surveillance of women. 

The Green Scare

Between 2001 and 2006, the FBI improperly monitored several groups, including PETA and Greenpeace, as part of the Green Scare, a propaganda program that includes the labeling and prosecution of activists as terrorists. In animal rights and environmental activism, women occupy prominent positions and have achieved a gender equity previously unrealized in other social justice movements.(1)(2) Women are twice as likely as men to support animal rights and tend to be more sympathetic than men to environmental causes. As suppression of green activists became a state priority, an unprecedented number of women became targets of state surveillance. However, targeted surveillance of female green activists is only one aspect of the increased surveillance of women since 2001.

Prism

Because women have historically been and still are largely locked out of official positions of power, our communication has been considered to consist of idle gossip and old wives’ tales. Until recently, the communication of women has been dismissed as inconsequential; we have worn a metaphorical veil that has allowed us to remain invisible to the surveillance gaze. With the Green Scare and the implementation of the all-encompassing Prism program, for the first time in history female communication has been deemed worthy of state surveillance.(3) The surveillance gaze has determined it is interested in our previously disregarded communication; it has stripped the veil from us.

Invisibility and Subversion

In Algeria Unveiled, Frantz Fanon conceived the veil as a revolutionary tool that allowed women to use invisibility as a weapon of resistance within the Casbah during the Algerian War. When Algerian women wore the veil, they were invisible to the French colonizers, who resented their absence from the otherwise omniscient colonizing gaze. Algerian women became the focus of campaigns by the French to impose on them cultural hegemony, including (unveiled) women as objects of male observation. The concerted efforts of the French colonizers to unveil Algerian women serves as an apt metaphor for the ripping away of the veil that prior to 2001 protected women’s communication from state surveillance.(4) The US government, in its secret interpretation and application of the Patriot Act, is acting as a colonizing force upon the entirety of human communication. The hegemonic gaze seeks out individual subversives, as well as organized efforts to undermine the dominant power structure. Historically, women’s participation in resistance has been minimized. However, the recent ascent of women within the animal rights and environmentalism movements has transformed us into dangerously veiled unknowables who must be exposed to the surveillance gaze in order to be catalogued and controlled. The implementation of the Prism program rends the veil from the communication of women, ostensibly neutralizing our potential threat to the dominant capitalist power structure.

We are controlled and coerced by this new pervasive surveillance, as we meticulously ensure our actions on behalf of animals, the environment, and other social justice causes could in no way be construed as threatening to the capitalist state. Because we are being watched, we go to great lengths not to raise any red flags, thereby distracting us and possibly weakening our revolutionary potential. This is a risk we cannot take. We must resist the urge to cease or constrain our organizing and social justice work. Comrades must download and properly use TOR, communicate with other organizers and activists in person or through anonymous email accounts and servers, and consistently practice Security Culture.Fanon also notes the duality of the revolutionary potential of the veil. Not only was it an invisibility cloak of sorts within the Casbah, but it was also something that could be shed to allow Algerian women to appear sympathetic and nonthreatening to colonizing forces and, therefore, to complete subversive tasks undetected within European cities after 1955 (174-7). We must transform the loss of the veil over women’s communication into a revolutionary tool that allows us to effectively maneuver the channels of capitalist patriarchy. Programs such as the Green Scare and Prism make it clear that the state perceives us as threats to its power. Let us prove it right.

(1) The recent allegations of transphobia in Deep Green Resistance is beyond the scope of this post although I am open to addressing it in future.

(2) Perhaps with the exception of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s. 
(3) There have been a few exceptions to this, consisting of social justice activists. One prominent example is Assata Shakur, the first woman to make the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, whose communications were undoubtedly monitored before her expatriation. Bernadine Dohrn has been a target of government surveillance for most of her life as well. 
(4) The reasons given by the French colonizers for wishing to impose European culture on the Algerians resemble the justifications of the Obama administration and the NSA for the Prism program: this is for our own protection, our own good.

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