How The Government Made Me A Dissident

I sometimes say the government turned me into a dissident — after I spent 14 years at the CIA and two more at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I only say it half-jokingly. While I’m proud of winning this year’s PEN Center’s First Amendment award, I never intended to make a career out of being at odds with the government.

Sometimes, though — like when I spent two years in prison for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program — it’s felt like the government’s gone out of its way to be at odds with me.

And it’s clear that our government demonizes people who disagree with the official line. Things got bad for anyone who disagrees with the official line right after 9/11.

We slid down the rabbit hole with the passage of the so-called PATRIOT Act. Enacted six weeks after the terrorist attacks, the law legalized actions against American citizens — including widespread Internet surveillance and phone taps — that had previously been unthinkable.

When the government hired me in 1988, it was widely understood that if the National Security Agency intercepted the communications of an American citizen — even accidentally — heads would roll. Congress had to be informed, an investigation would be launched, and the intercept had to be purged from the system.

Today, the NSA has an enormous facility in Utah big enough to save copies of every email, text message, and phone conversation made by every American for the next 500 years. You can bet they intend to.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my government trampling my civil liberties like this.

Still, people sometimes ask me why they should care if the authorities read their email or listen to their phone calls. “I have nothing to hide,” they say, “so why should I worry about it?”

This question sends chills up my spine.

As anybody who’s worked in the intelligence community will tell you, the government can learn a lot more about you than you realize.

Metadata — the raw information about who you talk to on the phone, or what websites you visit — is incredibly revealing. Analysts don’t need the actual content of your calls or emails to know what you’re up to.

Are you calling an abortion provider? A divorce lawyer? A secret girlfriend or boyfriend? A substance abuse counselor? The feds can find out, even though it’s none of their business.

What kind of porn do you like? What websites do you visit? What church, club, or political group do you belong to? They can figure that out, too.

Most of us don’t want anyone poking around our lives, even if we’re perfectly innocent. (Though with a little manipulation, anybody can be made to look like a troublemaker.)

Believe it or not, our founders saw this coming.

James Madison, the Constitution’s primary author, wrote the First Amendment to protect everyone — especially people who disagree with the government’s policies. We all have a constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition.

The Bill of Rights is the only thing standing between us and fascism. Monitoring the things we say is the first step toward prosecuting them.

So am I a dissident? I don’t know. I don’t care.

The important thing is that I’ve become passionate in my defense of our constitutional rights. I have an inalienable right to freedom of speech, and I’ll continue to exercise it — even at the risk of getting locked up again.

As more of us tough it out in prison, the government will lose its power to take our rights away. As more of us write and speak about government overreach, our chances of preserving our freedoms will grow.

It’s worth the risk.

John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA First Amendment award. 

This article was originally posted at

To France From A Post-9/11 America: Lessons We Learned Too Late

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ― Benjamin Franklin

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”—Hermann Goering, German military commander and Hitler’s designated successor

For those who remember when the first towers fell on 9/11, there is an unnerving feeling of déjà vu about the Paris attacks.

Once again, there is that same sense of shock. The same shocking images of carnage and grief dominating the news. The same disbelief that anyone could be so hateful, so monstrous, so evil as to do this to another human being. The same outpourings of support and unity from around the world. The same shared fear that this could easily have happened to us or our loved ones.

Now the drums of war are sounding. French fighter jets have carried out a series of “symbolic” air strikes on Syrian targets. France’s borders have been closed, Paris has been locked down and military personnel are patrolling its streets.

What remains to be seen is whether France, standing where the United States did 14 years ago, will follow in America’s footsteps as she grapples with the best way to shore up her defenses, where to draw the delicate line in balancing security with liberty, and what it means to secure justice for those whose lives were taken.

Here are some of the lessons we in the United States learned too late about allowing our freedoms to be eviscerated in exchange for the phantom promise of security.

Beware of mammoth legislation that expands the government’s powers at the citizenry’s expense. Rushed through Congress a mere 45 days after the 9/11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, undermined civil liberties, expanded the government’s powers and opened the door to far-reaching surveillance by the government on American citizens.

Pre-emptive strikes will only lead to further blowback. Not content to wage war against Afghanistan, which served as the base for Osama bin Laden, the U.S. embarked on a pre-emptive war against Iraq in order to “stop any adversary challenging America’s military superiority and adopt a strike-first policy against terrorist threats ‘before they’re fully formed.’” We are still suffering the consequences of this failed policy, which has resulted in lives lost, taxpayer dollars wasted, the fomenting of hatred against the U.S. and the further radicalization of terrorist cells.

War is costly. There are many reasons to go to war, but those who have advocated that the U.S. remain at war, year after year, are the very entities that have profited most from these endless military occupations and exercises. Thus far, the U.S. taxpayer has been made to shell out more than $1.6 trillion on “military operations, the training of security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, weapons maintenance, base support, reconstruction, embassy maintenance, foreign aid, and veterans’ medical care, as well as war-related intelligence operations not tracked by the Pentagon” since 2001. Other estimates that account for war-related spending, veterans’ benefits and various promissory notes place that figure closer to $4.4 trillion. That also does not include the more than 210,000 civilians killed so far, or the 7.6 million refugees displaced from their homes as a result of the endless drone strikes and violence.

Advocating torture makes you no better than terrorists. The horrors that took place at Abu Ghraib, the American-run prison in Iraq, continue to shock those with any decency. Photographs leaked to the media depicted “US military personnel humiliating, hurting and abusing Iraqi prisoners in a myriad of perverse ways.While American servicemen and women smiled and gave thumbs up, naked men were threatened by dogs, or were hooded, forced into sexual positions, placed standing with wires attached to their bodies, or left bleeding on prison floors.” Adding to the descent into moral depravity, the United States government legalized the use of torture, including waterboarding, in violation of international law and continues to sanction human rights violations in the pursuit of national security. The ramifications have been far-reaching, with local police now employing similar torture tactics at secret locations such as Homan Square in Chicago.

Allowing the government to spy on the citizenry will not reduce acts of terrorism, but it will result in a watched, submissive, surveillance society. A byproduct of this post 9/11-age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers such as Google that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere. We are all becoming data collected in government files. The chilling effect of this endless surveillance is a more anxious and submissive citizenry.

Don’t become so distracted by the news cycle that you lose sight of what the government is doing. The average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state. Whether these events are critical or unimportant, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this. In this way, regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions that keep the citizenry tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles also keep them tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on their freedoms.

If you stop holding the government accountable to the rule of law, the only laws it abides by will be the ones used to clamp down on the citizenry. Having failed to hold government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the American people have found themselves saddled with a government that skirts, flouts and violates the Constitution with little consequence. Overcriminalization, asset forfeiture schemes, police brutality, profit-driven prisons, warrantless surveillance, SWAT team raids, indefinite detentions, covert agencies, and secret courts are just a few of the egregious practices carried out by a government that operates beyond the reach of the law.

Do not turn your country into a battlefield, your citizens into enemy combatants, and your law enforcement officers into extensions of the military. A standing army—something that propelled the early colonists into revolution—strips the citizenry of any vestige of freedom. How can there be any semblance of freedom when there are tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, Blackhawk helicopters and armed drones patrolling overhead? It was for this reason that those who established America vested control of the military in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. They did not want a military government, ruled by force. Rather, they opted for a republic bound by the rule of law: the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, we in America now find ourselves struggling to retain some semblance of freedom in the face of police and law enforcement agencies that look and act like the military and have just as little regard for the Fourth Amendment, laws such as the NDAA that allow the military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens, and military drills that acclimate the American people to the sight of armored tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, and combat aircraft patrolling overhead.

As long as you remain fearful and distrustful of each other, you will be incapable of standing united against any threats posed by a power-hungry government. Early on, U.S. officials solved the problem of how to implement their authoritarian policies without incurring a citizen uprising: fear. The powers-that-be want us to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers). They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized armies for our safety and well-being. Most of all, they want us distrustful of each other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats.

If you trade your freedom for security, the terrorists win. We’ve walked a strange and harrowing road since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties. We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state. And in so doing, we have proven Osama Bin Laden right. He warned that “freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

To sum things up, the destruction that began with the 9/11 terror attacks has expanded into an all-out campaign of terror, trauma, acclimation and indoctrination aimed at getting Americans used to life in the American Police State. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has transitioned us to life in a society where government agents routinely practice violence on the citizens while, in conjunction with the Corporate State, spying on the most intimate details of our personal lives.

The lesson learned, as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is simply this: once you start down the road towards a police state, it will be very difficult to turn back.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

The Deep State: The Unelected Shadow Government Is Here To Stay

Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

America’s next president will inherit more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he or she assumes office. He will also inherit a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country.

To be precise, however, the future president will actually inherit not one but two shadow governments.

The first shadow government, referred to as COG or continuity of government, is made up of unelected individuals who have been appointed to run the government in the event of a “catastrophe.”

The second shadow government, referred to as the Deep State, is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.

The first shadow government, COG, is a phantom menace waiting for the right circumstances—a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, an economic meltdown—to bring it out of the shadows, where it operates even now. When and if COG takes over, the police state will transition to martial law.

Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it is the second shadow government, the Deep State, which poses the greater threat to our freedoms. This permanent, corporatized, militarized, entrenched bureaucracy is unaffected by elections, unaltered by populist movements, and beyond the reach of the law.

This is the hidden face of the police state.

These two shadow governments, which make a mockery of representative government and the “reassurance ritual” of voting, have been a long time in the making. Yet they have been so shrouded in secrecy, well hidden from the eyes and ears of the American people, that they exist and function in contravention to the principles of democratic government.

As the following makes clear, these shadow governments, which operate beyond the reach of the Constitution and with no real accountability to the citizenry, are the reason why “we the people” have no control over our government.

The COG shadow government plan was devised during the Cold War as a means of ensuring that a nuclear strike didn’t paralyze the federal government.

COG initially called for three teams consisting of a cabinet member, an executive chief of staff and military and intelligence officials to practice evacuating and directing a counter nuclear strike against the Soviet Union from a variety of high-tech, mobile command vehicles. If the president and vice president were both killed, one of these teams would take control, with the ranking cabinet official serving as president.

This all changed after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when it became clear that there would be no warning against a terrorist attack. Instead of waiting until an attack occurred to mobilize part-time bureaucrats and activate evacuation schemes, George W. Bush opted to change COG and establish a full-time, permanent shadow government, stationed outside the capital, run by permanently appointed (not elected) executive officials.

COG has since taken on a power—and a budget—of its own.

Incredibly, under the Obama administration, the plans for the shadow government have expanded and grown far more elaborate and costly than many realize. It is what investigative journalist William M. Arkin refers to as “the latest manifestation of an obsession with government survival.”

In much the same way that the nation was taken hostage after 9/11 by color-coded terror alerts and “See Something, Say Something” campaigns that transformed us into a fearful, watchful nation of suspects, the government’s efforts to prepare us for a so-called national disaster have, in turn, left us a constant state of near-emergency and acclimated us to the sight of militarized police, military drills on American soil, privatized prisons, the specter of internment camps, and the erosion of constitutional rights, especially as they pertain to so-called “extremists,” domestic or otherwise.

Study the COG plans carefully, however, and you’ll find that the concern isn’t so much about protecting our government as it is about protecting the nation’s governmental elite.

As Arkin reports: “Countless billions have been spent on this endeavor over the years, a secret orgy of preparedness going on behind the scenes, one that ensures Washington can defend itself, take care of its own, and survive no matter what.”

To this end, the government has invested heavily in the “architecture of fear”: massive underground bunkers—the size of small cities—which are sprinkled throughout the country for the government elite to escape to “in case of an imminent nuclear strike so that they can set up a kind of Administration-in-exile, directing every order of business from retaliation to recovery.”

These bunkers, strategically located around the nation’s capital and in key states, represent a who’s who on the shadow government’s payroll, with every department and agency represented, from the Department of Education and the Trademark Office to the Small Business Administration and the National Archives.

No sector has been overlooked: military, surveillance, counterintelligence, scientific, political, judicial, corporate contractors, as well as computer programmers, engineers, fire fighters, craftsmen, security guards, branch chiefs, financial managers, supply officers, secretaries and stenographers, all of whom have been entrusted with special ID cards allowing them clearance into the doomsday survival sites. They’ve even included individuals tasked with patent and trademark processing. They even have contingency plans to save priceless works of art.

The Federal Relocation Arc near Washington DC will reportedly serve as the emergency bunker for “every Cabinet department (and every government organization deemed essential).” Site R, a 700,000-foot facility inside Raven Rock Mountain near Camp David, will serve as a backup Pentagon. Peters Mountain near Charlottesville, Va., is the likely site for the nation’s domestic spies to hide out. Congress will retire to a subterranean facility near the posh Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which served as an internment facility for Japanese, Italian and German diplomats during World War II. And a 600,000-square-foot complex inside Virginia’s Mount Weather is expected to be the primary relocation site for the White House, the Supreme Court and much of the executive branch.

Built into the side of a mountain, Mount Weather, near Bluemont, Va., is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This self-contained facility contains, among other things, a hospital, crematorium, dining and recreation areas, sleeping quarters, reservoirs of drinking and cooling water, an emergency power plant, a radio/television studio and a full-time police and fire department.

There is also an Office of the Presidency at Mount Weather, which regularly receives top-secret national security information from all the federal departments and agencies. This facility was largely unknown to everyone, including Congress, until it came to light in the mid-1970s. Military personnel connected to the bunker have refused to reveal any information about it, even before congressional committees. In fact, Congress has no oversight, budgetary or otherwise, on Mount Weather, and the specifics of the facility remain top-secret.

These facilities reinforce a troubling government mindset that treats the American people as relatively insignificant and expendable. Because you know who’s not on the list of key-individuals-to-be-saved-in-the-eventuality-of-a-disaster? You and me and every other American citizen who is viewed as a mere economic unit to be tallied, bought and sold by those in power.

Not to worry, however. The government hasn’t completely forgotten about us.

In the event of a “national emergency”—loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions”—the executive branch and its unelected appointees will be given unchecked executive, legislative and judicial power.

In such an event, the Constitution will effectively be suspended, thereby ushering in martial law.

However, writing for Radar magazine, Christopher Ketcham suggests that the government won’t have completely forgotten about the rest of us. In fact, Ketcham believes that the government also has plans to imprison hundreds of thousands of “potentially suspect” Americans in detention camps.

Ketcham describes a program created by the Department of Homeland Security that relies on a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Referred to by the code name Main Core, this database reportedly contains the names of millions of Americans who, “often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.”

Sounds unnervingly like the objectives of the government’s new Domestic Terrorism Czar and the Strong Cities network, which will be working to identify and target potential extremists, doesn’t it?

Under Ketcham’s scenario, if a terrorist attack occurs, the president will declare a national emergency, activating COG procedures and throwing the country into martial law with the shadow government at the helm. The administration will then round up the “dangerous” Americans listed in Main Core and place them in one of the many internment camps or private prisons built for just such an eventuality.

For all intents and purposes, the nation is one national “emergency” away from having a full-fledged, unelected, authoritarian state emerge from the shadows. All it will take is the right event—another terrorist attack, perhaps, or a natural disaster—for such a regime to emerge from the shadows.

As unnerving as that prospect may be, however, it is the second shadow government, what former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to as “the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power,” that poses the greater threat right now.

Consider this: how is it that partisan gridlock has seemingly jammed up the gears (and funding sources) in Washington, yet the government has been unhindered in its ability to wage endless wars abroad, in the process turning America into a battlefield and its citizens into enemy combatants?

The credit for such relentless, entrenched, profit-driven governance, according to Lofgren, goes to “another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose.”

This “state within a state” hides “mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day,” says Lofgren, and yet the “Deep State does not consist of the entire government.”

Rather, Lofgren continues:

It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street.

All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted.

The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.

In an expose titled “Top Secret America,” The Washington Post revealed the private side of this shadow government, made up of 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances, “a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government.”

Reporting on the Post’s findings, Lofgren points out:

These contractors now set the political and social tone of Washington, just as they are increasingly setting the direction of the country, but they are doing it quietly, their doings unrecorded in the Congressional Record or the Federal Register, and are rarely subject to congressional hearings…

The Deep State not only holds the nation’s capital in thrall, but it also controls Wall Street (“which supplies the cash that keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater”) and Silicon Valley.

As Lofgren concludes:

[T]he Deep State is so heavily entrenched, so well protected by surveillance, firepower, money and its ability to co-opt resistance that it is almost impervious to change… If there is anything the Deep State requires it is silent, uninterrupted cash flow and the confidence that things will go on as they have in the past. It is even willing to tolerate a degree of gridlock: Partisan mud wrestling over cultural issues may be a useful distraction from its agenda.

Remember this the next time you find yourselves mesmerized by the antics of the 2016 presidential candidates or drawn into a politicized debate over the machinations of Congress, the president or the judiciary: it’s all intended to distract you from the fact that you have no authority and no rights in the face of the shadow governments.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

The Real Issues You Won’t Hear From The 2016 Presidential Candidates This Election Year

“Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.”—Gore Vidal

The countdown has begun.

We now have less than one year until the 2016 presidential election, and you can expect to be treated to an earful of carefully crafted, expensive sound bites and political spin about climate change, education, immigration, taxes and war.

Despite the dire state of our nation, however, you can rest assured that none of the problems that continue to undermine our freedoms will be addressed in any credible, helpful way by any of the so-called viable presidential candidates–and certainly not if doing so might jeopardize their standing with the unions, corporations or the moneyed elite bankrolling their campaigns.

The following are just a few of the issues that should be front and center in every presidential debate. That they are not is a reflection of our willingness as citizens to have our political elections reduced to little more than popularity contests that are, in the words of Shakespeare, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The national debt. Why aren’t politicians talking about the whopping $18.1 trillion and rising that our government owes to foreign countries, private corporations and its retirement programs? Not only is the U.S. the largest debtor nation in the world, but according to Forbes, “the amount of interest on the national debt is estimated to be accumulating at a rate of over one million dollars per minute.” Shouldn’t the government being on the verge of bankruptcy be an issue worth talking about?

Black budget spending. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the sixteen or so intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. The agencies operating with black budget (top secret) funds include the CIA, NSA and Justice Department. Clearly, our right to privacy seems to amount to nothing in the eyes of the government and those aspiring to office.

Government contractors. Despite all the talk about big and small government, what we have been saddled with is a government that is outsourcing much of its work to high-paid contractors at great expense to the taxpayer and with no competition, little transparency and dubious savings. According to the Washington Post, “By some estimates, there are twice as many people doing government work under contract than there are government workers.” These open-ended contracts, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, “now account for anywhere between one quarter and one half of all federal service contracting.” Moreover, any attempt to reform the system is “bitterly opposed by federal employee unions, who take it as their mission to prevent good employees from being rewarded and bad employees from being fired.”

Cost of war. Then there’s the detrimental impact the government’s endless wars (fueled by the profit-driven military industrial complex) is having on our communities, our budget and our police forces. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer, with more than 3.2 million employees. Since 9/11, we’ve spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. When you add in our military efforts in Pakistan, as well as the lifetime price of health care for disabled veterans and interest on the national debt, that cost rises to $4.4 trillion.

Education. Despite the fact that the U.S. spends more on education than any other developed nation, our students continue to lag significantly behind other advanced industrial nations. Incredibly, teenagers in the U.S. ranked 36th in the world in math, reading and science.

Civics knowledge. Americans know little to nothing about their rights or how the government is supposed to operate. This includes educators and politicians. For example, 27 percent of elected officials cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, while 54 percent do not know the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. As one law professor notes:

Only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government. Fewer than half of 12th grade students can describe the meaning of federalism. Only 35% of teenagers can identify “We the People” as the first three words of the Constitution. Fifty-eight percent of Americans can’t identify a single department in the United States Cabinet. Only 5% of high school seniors can identify checks on presidential power, only 43% could name the two major political parties, only 11% knew the length of a Senator’s term, and only 23% could name the first President of the United States.

A citizenry that does not know its rights will certainly not rebel while they are being systematically indoctrinated into compliance.

Asset forfeiture. Under the guise of fighting the war on drugs, government agents (usually the police) have been given broad leeway to seize billions of dollars’ worth of private property (money, cars, TVs, etc.) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property, often divvying it up with the local police who did the initial seizure. The police are actually being trained in seminars on how to seize the “goodies” that are on police departments’ wish lists. According to the New York Times, seized monies have been used by police to “pay for sports tickets, office parties, a home security system and a $90,000 sports car.”

Surveillance. Not only is the government spying on Americans’ phone calls and emails, but police are also being equipped with technology such as Stingray devices that can track your cell phone, as well as record the content of your calls and the phone numbers dialed. That doesn’t even touch on what the government’s various aerial surveillance devices are tracking, or the dangers posed to the privacy and safety of those on the ground. Just recently, a 243-foot, multi-billion dollar military surveillance blimp drifted off, leaving a path of wreckage and power outages in its wake, before finally crash landing.

Police misconduct. Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands. Moreover, while increasing attention has been paid to excessive police force, sexual misconduct by police has been largely overlooked. A year-long investigation by the Associated Press “uncovered about 1,000 officers who lost their badges in a six-year period” for sexual misconduct. “Victims included unsuspecting motorists, schoolchildren ordered to raise their shirts in a supposed search for drugs, police interns taken advantage of, women with legal troubles who succumbed to performing sex acts for promised help, and prison inmates forced to have sex with guards.” Yet the numbers are largely underreported, covered up by police departments that “stay quiet about improprieties to limit liability, allowing bad officers to quietly resign, keep their certification and sometimes jump to other jobs.”

Prison population. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. Many of the nation’s privately run prisons—a $5 billion industry—require the state to keep the prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, “regardless of whether crime was rising or falling.” As Mother Jones reports, “private prison companies have supported and helped write ‘three-strike’ and ‘truth-in-sentencing’ laws that drive up prison populations. Their livelihoods depend on towns, cities, and states sending more people to prison and keeping them there.” Private prisons are also doling out harsher punishments for infractions by inmates in order to keep them locked up longer in order to “boost profits” at taxpayer expense. All the while, the prisoners are being forced to provide cheap labor for private corporations.

SWAT team raids. Over 80,000 SWAT team raids are conducted on American homes and businesses each year. Police agencies, already empowered to crash through your door if they suspect you’re up to no good, now have radars that allow them to “see” through the walls of your home.

Oligarchy. We are no longer a representative republic. The U.S. has become a corporate oligarchy. As a Princeton University survey indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen.

Young people. Nearly one out of every three American children live in poverty, ranking America among the worst countries in the developed world. Patrolled by police, our schools have become little more than quasi-prisons in which kids as young as age 4 are being handcuffed for “acting up,” subjected to body searches and lockdowns, and suspended for childish behavior.

Private property. Private property means little at a time when SWAT teams and other government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, wound or kill you, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

Strip searches. Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, forcibly take our DNA, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women alike—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops.

Fiscal corruption. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

Militarized police. Americans are powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, government agents were not permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And citizens could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant. Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons would be nothing short of suicidal. Moreover, as police forces across the country continue to be transformed into extensions of the military, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.

These are not problems that can be glibly dismissed with a few well-chosen words, as most politicians are inclined to do. Nor will the 2016 elections do much to alter our present course towards a police state. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the popularity contest for the new occupant of the White House will significantly alter the day-to-day life of the average American greatly at all. Those life-changing decisions are made elsewhere, by nameless, unelected government officials who have turned bureaucracy into a full-time and profitable business.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, these problems will continue to plague our nation unless and until Americans wake up to the fact that we’re the only ones who can change things for the better and then do something about it.

This was a recurring theme for Martin Luther King Jr., who urged Americans to engage in militant nonviolent resistance in response to government corruption. In a speech delivered just a few months before his assassination, King called on Americans to march on Washington in order to take a stand against the growing problems facing the nation—problems that were being ignored by those in office because they were unpopular, not profitable or risky. “I don’t determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Nor do I determine what is right and wrong by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion,” remarked King. “Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Guided by Gallup polls, influenced by corporate lobbyists, and molded by party politics, the 2016 presidential candidates are playing for high stakes; but they are not looking out for the best interests of “we the people.” As King reminds us:

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

Fear Of The Walking Dead: The American Police State Takes Aim

Fear is a primitive impulse, brainless as hunger, and because the aim of horror fiction is the production of the deepest kinds of fears, the genre tends to reinforce some remarkably uncivilized ideas about self-protection. In the current crop of zombie stories, the prevailing value for the beleaguered survivors is a sort of siege mentality, a vigilance so constant and unremitting that it’s indistinguishable from the purest paranoia.— Terrence Rafferty, New York Times

The zombies are back. They are hungry. And they are lurking around every corner.

In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback has declared October “Zombie Preparedness Month” in an effort to help the public prepare for a possible zombie outbreak.

In New York, researchers at Cornell University have concluded that the best place to hide from the walking dead is the northern Rocky Mountains region.

And in Washington, DC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have put together a zombie apocalypse preparation kit “that details everything you would need to have on hand in the event the living dead showed up at your front door.”

The undead are also wreaking havoc at gun shows, battling corsets in forthcoming movie blockbusters such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, running for their lives in 5K charity races, and even putting government agents through their paces in mock military drills arranged by the Dept. of Defense (DOD) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The zombie narrative, popularized by the hit television series The Walking Dead, in which a small group of Americans attempt to survive in a zombie-ridden, post-apocalyptic world where they’re not only fighting off flesh-eating ghouls but cannibalistic humans, plays to our fears and paranoia.

Yet as journalist Syreeta McFadden points out, while dystopian stories used to reflect our anxieties, now they reflect our reality, mirroring how we as a nation view the world around us, how we as citizens view each other, and most of all how our government views us.

Fear the Walking Dead—AMC’s new spinoff of its popular Walking Dead series—drives this point home by dialing back the clock to when the zombie outbreak first appears and setting viewers down in the midst of societal unrest not unlike our own experiences of the past year (“a bunch of weird incidents, police protests, riots, and … rapid social entropy”). Then, as Forbes reports, “the military showed up and we fast-forwarded into an ad hoc police state with no glimpse at what was happening in the world around our main cast of hapless survivors.”

Forbes found Fear’s quick shift into a police state to be far-fetched, but anyone who has been paying attention in recent years knows that the groundwork has already been laid for the government—i.e., the military—to intervene and lock down the nation in the event of a national disaster.

Recognizing this, the Atlantic notes: “The villains of [Fear the Walking Dead] aren’t the zombies, who rarely appear, but the U.S. military, who sweep into an L.A. suburb to quarantine the survivors. Zombies are, after all, a recognizable threat—but Fear plumbs drama and horror from the betrayal by institutions designed to keep people safe.”

We’ve been so hounded in recent years with dire warnings about terrorist attacks, Ebola pandemics, economic collapse, environmental disasters, and militarized police that it’s no wonder millions of Americans have turned to zombie fiction as a way to “envision how we and our own would thrive if everything went to hell and we lost all our societal supports.” As Time magazine reporter James Poniewozik phrases it, the “apocalyptic drama lets us face the end of the world once a week and live.”

Here’s the curious thing, however: while zombies may be the personification of our darkest fears, they embody the government’s paranoia about the citizenry as potential threats that need to be monitored, tracked, surveilled, sequestered, deterred, vanquished and rendered impotent.

Why else would the government feel the need to monitor our communications, track our movements, criminalize our every action, treat us like suspects, and strip us of any means of defense while equipping its own personnel with an amazing arsenal of weapons?

For years now, the government has been carrying out military training drills with zombies as the enemy. In 2011, the DOD created a 31-page instruction manual for how to protect America from a terrorist attack carried out by zombie forces. In 2012, the CDC released a guide for surviving a zombie plague. That was followed by training drills for members of the military, police officers and first responders.

As journalist Andrea Peyser reports:

Coinciding with Halloween 2012, a five-day national conference was put on by the HALO Corp. in San Diego for more than 1,000 first responders, military personnel and law enforcement types. It included workshops produced by a Hollywood-affiliated firm in…overcoming a zombie invasion. Actors were made up to look like flesh-chomping monsters. The Department of Homeland Security even paid the $1,000 entry fees for an unknown number of participants…

“Zombie disaster” drills were held in October 2012 and ’13 at California’s Sutter Roseville Medical Center. The exercises allowed medical center staff “to test response to a deadly infectious disease, a mass-casualty event, terrorism event and security procedures”…

[In October 2014], REI outdoor-gear stores in Soho and around the country are to hold free classes in zombie preparedness, which the stores have been providing for about three years.

The zombie exercises appear to be kitschy and fun—government agents running around trying to put down a zombie rebellion—but what if the zombies in the exercises are us, the citizenry, viewed by those in power as mindless, voracious, zombie hordes?

Consider this: the government started playing around with the idea of using zombies as stand-ins for enemy combatants in its training drills right around the time the Army War College issued its 2008 report, warning that an economic crisis in the U.S. could lead to massive civil unrest that would require the military to intervene and restore order.

That same year, it was revealed that the government had amassed more than 8 million names of Americans considered a threat to national security, to be used “by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law.” The program’s name, Main Core, refers to the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”

Also in 2008, the Pentagon launched the Minerva Initiative, a $75 million military-driven research project focused on studying social behavior in order to determine how best to cope with mass civil disobedience or uprisings. The Minerva Initiative has funded projects such as “Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?” which “conflates peaceful activists with ‘supporters of political violence’ who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on ‘armed militancy’ themselves.”

In 2009, the Dept. of Homeland Security issued its reports on Rightwing and Leftwing Extremism, in which the terms “extremist” and “terrorist” were used interchangeably to describe citizens who were disgruntled or anti-government.

Meanwhile, a government campaign was underway to spy on Americans’ mail, email and cell phone communications. News reports indicate that the U.S. Postal Service has handled more than 150,000 requests by federal and state law enforcement agencies to monitor Americans’ mail, in addition to photographing every piece of mail sent through the postal system.

Fast forward a few years more and you have local police being transformed into extensions of the military, taught to view members of their community as suspects, trained to shoot first and ask questions later, and equipped with all of the technology and weaponry of a soldier on a battlefield.

Most recently, the Obama administration hired a domestic terrorism czar whose job is to focus on anti-government American “extremists” who have been designated a greater threat to America than ISIS or al Qaeda. As part of the government’s so-called war on right-wing extremism, the Obama administration has agreed to partner with the United Nations to take part in its Strong Cities Network program, which will train local police agencies across America in how to identify, fight and prevent extremism.

In other words, those who believe in and exercise their rights under the Constitution (namely, the right to speak freely, worship freely, associate with like-minded individuals who share their political views, criticize the government, own a weapon, demand a warrant before being questioned or searched, or any other activity viewed as potentially anti-government, racist, bigoted, anarchic or sovereign), have just been promoted to the top of the government’s terrorism watch list.

Noticing a pattern yet?

“We the people” or, more appropriately, “we the zombies” are the enemy in the eyes of the government.

So when presented with the Defense Department’s battle plan for defeating an army of the walking dead, you might find yourself tempted to giggle over the fact that a taxpayer-funded government bureaucrat actually took the time to research and write about vegetarian zombies, evil magic zombies, chicken zombies, space zombies, bio-engineered weaponized zombies, radiation zombies, symbiant-induced zombies, and pathogenic zombies.

However, in an age of extreme government paranoia, this is no laughing matter.

The DOD’s strategy for dealing with a zombie uprising, outlined in “CONOP 8888,” is for all intents and purposes a training manual for the government in how to put down a citizen uprising, or at least an uprising of individuals “infected” with dangerous ideas about freedom.

Rest assured that the tactics and difficulties outlined in the “fictional training scenario” are all too real, beginning with martial law.

As the DOD training manual states: “zombies [read: “activists”] are horribly dangerous to all human life and zombie infections have the potential to seriously undermine national security and economic activities that sustain our way of life. Therefore having a population that is not composed of zombies or at risk from their malign influence is vital to U.S. and Allied national interests.”

So how does the military plan to put down a zombie (a.k.a. disgruntled citizen) uprising?

The strategy manual outlines five phases necessary for a counter-offensive: shape, deter, seize initiative, dominate, stabilize and restore civil authority. Here are a few details:

Phase 0 (Shape): Conduct general zombie awareness training. Monitor increased threats

(i.e., surveillance). Carry out military drills. Synchronize contingency plans between federal and state agencies. Anticipate and prepare for a breakdown in law and order.

Phase 1 (Deter): Recognize that zombies cannot be deterred or reasoned with. Carry out training drills to discourage other countries from developing or deploying attack zombies and publicly reinforce the government’s ability to combat a zombie threat. Initiate intelligence sharing between federal and state agencies. Assist the Dept. of Homeland Security in identifying or discouraging immigrants from areas where zombie-related diseases originate.

Phase 2 (Seize initiative): Recall all military personal to their duty stations. Fortify all military outposts. Deploy air and ground forces for at least 35 days. Carry out confidence-building measures with nuclear-armed peers such as Russia and China to ensure they do not misinterpret the government’s zombie countermeasures as preparations for war. Establish quarantine zones. Distribute explosion-resistant protective equipment. Place the military on red alert. Begin limited scale military operations to combat zombie threats. Carry out combat operations against zombie populations within the United States that were “previously” U.S. citizens.

Phase 3 (Dominate): Lock down all military bases for 30 days. Shelter all essential government personnel for at least 40 days. Equip all government agents with military protective gear. Issue orders for military to kill all non-human life on sight. Initiate bomber and missile strikes against targeted sources of zombie infection, including the infrastructure. Burn all zombie corpses. Deploy military to lock down the beaches and waterways.

Phase 4 (Stabilize): Send out recon teams to check for remaining threats and survey the status of basic services (water, power, sewage infrastructure, air, and lines of communication). Execute a counter-zombie ISR plan to ID holdout pockets of zombie resistance. Use all military resources to target any remaining regions of zombie holdouts and influence. Continue all actions from the Dominate phase.

Phase 5 (Restore civil authority): Deploy military personnel to assist any surviving civil authorities in disaster zones. Reconstitute combat capabilities at various military bases. Prepare to redeploy military forces to attack surviving zombie holdouts. Restore basic services in disaster areas.

Notice the similarities?

Surveillance. Military drills. Awareness training. Militarized police forces. Martial law.

As I point out in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if there is any lesson to be learned, it is simply this: whether the threat to national security comes in the form of actual terrorists, imaginary zombies or disgruntled American citizens infected with dangerous ideas about freedom, the government’s response to such threats remains the same: detect, deter and annihilate.

To return to AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead: it’s the police state “tasked with protecting the vulnerable” that poses some of the gravest threats to the citizenry.

From the Atlantic:

When the military arrives, mowing down hostile “walkers” with ease, setting up camp to screen out any further infection, the moment is presented with an ironic note of triumph. The main character, Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), tells his group they can rest easy—help has finally arrived… As the soldiers begin hauling anyone spiking a fever away to quarantine zones, Travis insists their intentions are noble while the rest of his family begins to realize the military doesn’t really have a plan except to crush any potential threat. Are you a zombie? They’ll shoot you in the head. Do you look sick? You’re probably about to be a zombie. Do you have a problem with their approach? Then they have a problem with you, too.

One of the show’s most brilliant touches has been the characterization of the soldiers themselves, not as impassive robots hell-bent on enforcing martial law, but as worryingly recognizable guys around town. Whenever Travis pleads with his local commander to address community fears and complaints, he might as well be talking to an ornery bowling buddy. The soldiers are tetchy and irritable rather than monstrous, clearly overwhelmed by the impossible situation they face, and granted authority through the guns in their hands and little else. In a pivotal scene, one of them tries to cajole Travis into firing a killshot at a distant zombie through a sniper scope, even though he knows Travis believes there might be a cure. The soldiers insist the zombies are dead beyond salvation—an unfortunate truth on the show, but also a sad reflection of just how dehumanized the enemy can become in the midst of war.

The latest episode, “Cobalt,” revealed the military’s endgame: With the zombie situation deteriorating, they plan to flee and wipe out everyone they leave behind, at this point motivated only by the need to survive, rather than to protect. Countering that is the family unit that has forged new bonds in the crisis. These organically loyal communities, the writers Robert Kirkman and David Erickson argue, are the only kind that can survive in such a world… More than anything, Fear the Walking Dead is a drama about occupation, the breakdown of society, and the ease with which seemingly decent people can decide that might makes right. Like any dystopian fiction, it’s easy to dismiss as fantasy, but remove the zombies and Fear could be taking place in dozens of real-world locations… This is happening here, Kirkman and Erickson are saying, but it could happen anywhere.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by