Hoover, the NSA and the Art of Blackmail


The Banyan Tree and Realpolitik. 1

Who really runs America?. 1

Hoovers’ legacy: establishing the tools of a police state. 3

Leaks and Power 3

Privacy and Power 4

The Banyan Tree and Realpolitik

Embed from Getty Images

Who really runs America?

The intelligence agencies in the West, like their kin in parts of the world with more notorious reputations, use their powers ‘strategically’ – for institutional advancement or to embellish individual career paths, but not necessarily to protect and advance American (and Western) values – values we still like to think of as truth, justice, and human rights. These values have been surrendered to the political expediency of realpolitik by wealthy and political oligarchs. As MIT professor Noam Chomsky said:

“The governments seek to extend power and domination and to benefit their primary domestic constituencies – in the U.S., primarily the corporate sector…We see that all the time.” [1]

Through the deep penetration of undercover intelligence agents and their comprehensive networks of informants and collaborators, anthropologist and sociologist Eben Kirksey accounts for how the “architecture of power” is constructed using the metaphor of the Banyan tree – a strangler fig from Indonesia that chokes and kills its host.[2] This alternative architecture of power as Kirksey describes it, sheds light on the construction and institutional growth of alternative power structures right over the top of existing structures. It is a model of political “subversion, replication, and domination” which describes the Indonesian subjugation of West Papua, as an example.

The Banyan tree model also aptly describes the way our western intelligence agencies are subsuming the democratic institutions and democracies that spawned them. In this model, applied to the US, the domestic intelligence agencies secretly unite disparate, notionally independent and unconnected institutions and links them together by recruiting “individuals occupying high ranking positions in different institutions”.

Individuals in positions of power who are secretly joined together can include “journalists, professors, pastors, corporate executives, and development workers” – the list is extended to include any individual, organisation, or institution in a position to influence public opinion – from lawyers, members of the judiciary, the executive, legislators and their staffers, civil society leaders, academics, bankers and scientists to folk singers, actors, poets and writers. Their secret “latticed network of connections” constructed “inside key structures of power” is a powerful tool of subversion. Their links enable co-ordinated control by the chain of command they secretly report to – the intelligence agencies – and “quietly working together” use “subtle tactics to influence the agenda of the national dialogue” and beyond.

The network, connected via “unofficial channels”, is invisible to outsiders. Together, “these people form[ed] a latticed network of connections…that are difficult to disrupt”. In the US, this network is vast, billions of dollars are invested annually to maintain it and over 3 million people reportedly have security clearance representing a complete cross section of society.

The increased power of intelligence agencies has diminished the political relevance of elected officials, public opinion and political debate. In this new system, much more is achieved through hidden channels than the public forums of earlier times, and the human rights of the governed are increasingly ignored and difficult to defend.

Who is ultimately calling the shots in our political system now? Domestic spying makes a mockery of the separation of powers that is the keystone of democracy. The security forces have gone way beyond using their power to protect legitimate democratic national security interests to target the judiciary, media, and legislators. The intelligence agencies have discarded democratic freedoms, we are told in the name of “national security”, but really they have set their sights on the high economic growth achieved in China and Singapore. A unilateral decision has been made on our behalf to dispense with the “democratic experiment” in favour of more authoritarian government.

Journalist Kurt Opsahl of Electronic Frontier Foundation reports

The administration keeps on attempting to justify the NSA spying by claiming there is oversight from the other branches of government. But, as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg noted in the Why Care About NSA Spying[3] video, spying makes a mockery of that separation. How can that oversight be meaningful if the NSA’s huge storehouse of information contains the private…habits of every senator, representative, and judge? When the only protection against abuse is internal policies, there is no serious oversight. Congress needs to take action now to rein in the spying.”[4]

This vast latticed network of secretly interconnected individuals and the ever expanding power of technology gives our intelligence agencies ever easier and deeper reach to collect information, influence and control us – as private individuals and as public officials. It is a system in which duty is redefined, personal morality and human relationships are surrendered to a different loyalty: the people running the intelligence agencies – the self decreed masters of the state.

NSA whistleblower Russel Tice revealed to the New York Times in 2005 that the NSA was targeting key US officials. Below is an interview with Tice in which he discusses the extent to which the NSA targeted officials from judges to oversight committees, with the intent of potentially blackmailing them, and coercing and controlling them:

“They went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial. But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials. They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups. So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff.”[5]

If the public remains apathetic and passive as the intelligence agencies move our political system away from democratic values to a non representative model of government, the general population will likely find it has a heavy burden to carry. History has shown how authoritarian, non representative governments respond in times of great social stress with ruthless treatment of individuals which democracies are designed to protect. Populations that want the benefits of centralised control in the good times, give up the benefits of being part of a democracy in difficult times. If the public is too apathetic or too inclined to accept the erosion of its democratic rights in exchange for marginally higher economic growth, it risks a confrontation with the political reality that people in power cannot be trusted, are corrupted and it is difficult to rein in their excesses. No system is perfect, or near perfect but democracy offers powerful checks and balances – as Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Hoovers’ legacy: establishing the tools of a police state

 Leaks and Power

 There is a fundamental tendency in men and women to individualism, a “will to power” as Nietzsche called it, to live life freely and follow their personal dreams. In theory the masses are the ultimate source of law and authority but to represent an effective bulwark against tyranny they must be well informed and politically engaged:

“Give the people the facts and the Republic will be saved.” (Abraham Lincoln).

Hoover, the founding director of the FBI, realised immediately the potential of using the FBI’s vast and secretive power to undermine existing power relationships in civil society between leaders and their populist support base:

“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” so disturbed the American power structure that the F.B.I. started spying on him in what The Washington Post called “one of its biggest surveillance operations in history.” The speech even moved the head of the agency’s domestic intelligence division to label King “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of Communism, the Negro and national security.”

Of course, King wasn’t dangerous to the country but to the status quo.”[6]

Even CNN has weighed in recently with a recap and reminder of the sordid political history of the FBI, reflective of the terrible, abusive methods that still scar and serve as a warning about the tactics of the agency. For good reason, many people believe the agency still uses these tactics today, but under a different code name:

“Governments that have the power to secretly watch their citizens and are not subject to meaningful legal constraint have proven, time and time again, that this power can be abused.

Just look at our own history. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI put the Rev. Martin Luther King under surveillance, seeking to discredit him politically. This was part of a broader program called COINTELPRO. Hoover told FBI agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the activities of a wide range of individuals and groups, including communists, civil rights organizations, anti-Vietnam War groups, and so on.

A society that cannot trust its citizens with ideas — dissenting, different, or even dangerous — is a society that is incapable of governing itself.”(CNN) [7]

This has not changed since Hoover. If anything, FBI abuses have expanded and become more sophisticated with new technologies enabling the intelligence agencies’ unprecedented infiltration of our country, accreting power with a momentum that seems unstoppable. My experience is that secrecy claims like a poison pill are used with a sugar coating to hide the illegal FBI and other intelligence agency tactics that are at the heart of their political activities today.

The power of state resides with those who most deeply pierce individuals’ privacy – the intelligence agencies. The J Edgar Hoovers of the world hold the real power, the faceless men and women that control much of the media, legislators and the executive: leaking salacious gossip, building and breaking careers.

Privacy and Power

In 21st century America, these tactics have become a staple of mainstream power. One of the most troubling aspects of the NSA as revealed by Snowden and reported by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian was the effort the agency went to in hiding its true intent and ambitions regarding its mass collection and use of personal information from congress and the American people:

“The general revelation that the objective of the NSA is literally the elimination of global privacy: ensuring that every form of human electronic communication – not just those of The Terrorists™ – is collected, stored, analyzed and monitored.

The NSA has so radically misled everyone for so long about its true purpose that revealing its actual institutional function was shocking to many, many people, and is the key context for understanding these other specific revelations.”[8]

Greenwald went further in a 2013 article pointing out Clapper “repeatedly deceived the American people”, he lied to congress and his agency appeared to be complicit in the CIA’s spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Despite this, he was not prosecuted. On the contrary, he was shielded, protected and defended by Washington:

“Indeed, if I had to pick the single most revealing aspect of this entire NSA scandal – and there are many revealing ones about many different realms – it would be that James Clapper lied to the faces of the Senate Intelligence Committee about core NSA matters, and not only was he not prosecuted for that felony, but he did not even lose his job, and continues to be treated with great reverence by the very Committee which he deliberately deceived. That one fact tells you all you need to know about how official Washington functions.”[9]

The agencies have the surveillance tools to access and threaten people where they are most vulnerable, their private lives. It is the most fundamental door to power – to understand people’s desires and fears in relation to wealth, power, influence, status, the protection of family – and be able to collect information to threaten or enhance these outcomes. As J Edgar Hoover demonstrated, targeting and revealing individuals’ privacy is the realm where real power resides; the files that allow its keepers to coerce presidents and senators, indeed anyone who gets in the way.

That separation ensures power is distributed and kept in check. Attacking people’s privacy is a key weapon of abuse as Kurt Opsahl of Electronic Frontier Foundation reports:

“As Cato Fellow Julian Sanchez points out, there is a lengthy and disturbing history of abuse. FBI Director “J. Edgar Hoover maintained a notorious ‘Sex Deviate’ file filled with salacious bits of information on the sexual proclivities of prominent Americans: actors, columnists, activists, members of Congress, and even presidents.” Hoover used that information to ensure appropriations for the FBI and expand his political power.[10]

Author and journalist Richard Kessler describes how Hoover opened fissures and breached privacy at the FBI, establishing a way of doing business that today is still very much a part of the FBI’s modus operandi:

“The moment [Hoover] would get something on a senator,” said William Sullivan, who became the number three official in the bureau under Hoover, “he’d send one of the errand boys up and advise the senator that ‘we’re in the course of an investigation, and we by chance happened to come up with this data on your daughter. But we wanted you to know this. We realize you’d want to know it.’ Well, Jesus, what does that tell the senator? From that time on, the senator’s right in his pocket.”

Lawrence J. Heim, who was in the Crime Records Division, confirmed to me that the bureau sent agents to tell members of Congress that Hoover had picked up derogatory information on them.

He [Hoover] would send someone over on a very confidential basis,” Heim said. As an example, if the Metropolitan Police in Washington had picked up evidence of homosexuality, “he [Hoover] would have him say, ‘This activity is known by the Metropolitan Police Department and some of our informants, and it is in your best interests to know this.’ But nobody has ever claimed to have been blackmailed. You can deduce what you want from that.” [11]

Kessler goes on to say that President Truman, a month after taking office in 1945, sounded the alarm bells about Hoover’s FBI, “We want no Gestapo or Secret Police. FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex life scandals and plain blackmail.” He followed this up 2 years later adding, “all Congressmen and Senators are afraid of him.” [12]

The NSA leaks might be news, but none of what is described is new. This kind of political targeting has been going on for decades, ever since Hoover perfected the techniques to support his and the agency’s agenda and gradually turned the intelligence agencies from crime fighters and technocrats defending the national security into king makers and political henchmen. Kurt Opsahl continues:

[While the intelligence agencies] support using surveillance to tarnish the reputation of people the NSA considers “radicalizers,” U.S. officials have in the past used similar tactics against civil rights leaders, labor movement activists and others. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI harassed activists and compiled secret files on political leaders….[13]

Further, NSA documents released by Snowden exemplify how individuals’ “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority.” [14] Private information gathered through surveillance, including collection of communications content, metadata (the time, duration, location of communications, but not its content) is exploited to neutralise targets, by leaking that information publicly, or to a closed network of friends, work and industry colleagues, peers and associates of the target specially recruited at great effort by the agencies for that purpose; or the target might be blackmailed depending on what the information is. Once they have the information, the agencies have multiple options in how it can be used.

“Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said these revelations give rise to serious concerns about abuse. “It’s important to remember that the NSA’s surveillance activities are anything but narrowly focused — the agency is collecting massive amounts of sensitive information about virtually everyone,” he said.

“Wherever you are, the NSA’s databases store information about your political views, your medical history, your intimate relationships and your activities online,” he added. “The NSA says this personal information won’t be abused, but these documents show that the NSA probably defines ‘abuse’ very narrowly.””[15]

The methods of the intelligence agencies are highly susceptible to abuse. How can the government justify, among other things, the targeted collection of video surveillance of innocent Americans’ in their bedrooms – the targeting of “embarrassing sexually explicit information.” This is not a tactic reserved only for high profile leaders – like Martin Luther King. I know from my FBI contacts that where the FBI is surveilling political targets, activists, dissidents, etc – with a view to undermining their influence, that secret surveillance extends into bedrooms. Evidently, the FBI had my apartment under video surveillance based on what Susan subsequently disclosed to me concerning specific trysts and events during an official covert FBI interview.

My experience is FBI abuse is rife, not kept in check by the oversight agencies. This “oversight” takes a great toll on the target. I have been repeatedly surprised as a target at how close the intelligence agencies are able to recruit to one’s inner circle. Like anyone that came from a loving and strong family and social environment, I expected that my friends, family and others in my inner circle would be inaccessible, beyond influence and recruitment by the agencies. Unfortunately I was wrong. It turns out the agencies have very persuasive recruitment methods indeed. They offer well researched, highly focused incentives based on detailed understanding of each targeted recruit’s personal circumstances gleaned from intrusive surveillance, no doubt augmented with threats where required. Based on my experience, inducements vary from “do it for your country”, cash, employment, payment in kind, referrals, placing a good word to help you get promoted, win an award, or a new contract; threats include physical harm to self, family or business, to fully prejudicial “you’re either with us or against us”, “if you don’t help us with this, it must be because your protecting so and so” or a more prosaic – “you might not want to do that”.

With the wall of privacy dismantled the most valuable things to an individual, things that have no price tag and no market value, are accessible to government interference: our relationships are no longer protected from interference; our memories can be scandalised and exploited; and the government manipulates our careers, reputations and status. Once the agencies have the information on a target they control the timing and extent of the leaks. With it, they maliciously poison their personal environment – stirring up domestic, professional and social problems, causing conflict on multiple fronts, economic and potentially legal problems, to produce instability and insecurity.

Secret cameras in peoples bedrooms, maligning reputations and making people out to be predators, deviants, abusers, addicts or possessing some other cocktail of other socially undesirable traits does not protect the state’s military interests. The claims to secrecy around these domestically targeted “techniques and methods” is fraudulent, made to protect the agencies’ techniques and methods in the war of propaganda and control at home – creating heroes and villains and encouraging behavioural norms that serve their goals. With these techniques – video, secret recordings, dodgy dossiers, and the like – they influence work place culture, public policy and broader society to reflect the interests of the wealthy and politically connected.


[1] Noam Chomsky 17 August 2013, Chomsky: The U.S. behaves nothing like a democracy, Salon. http://www.salon.com/2013/08/17/chomsky_the_u_s_behaves_nothing_like_a_democracy/

[2] Eben Kirksey, 2012 Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power, Duke University Press, p68-p73.

[3] Brian Knappenberger, 25 November 2013 Why Care About NSA Spying, The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000002571435/why-care-about-the-nsa.html

[4] Kurt Opsahl, 27 November 2013 The NSA is Tracking Online Porn Viewing to Discredit “Radicalizers”, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

[5] Washingtonblog, 20 June 2013, NSA Whistleblower: NSA Spying On – and Blackmailing – Top Government Officials and Military Officers


[6] Charles M. Blow, 28 August 2013 The Most Dangerous Negro, The New York Times.

[7] Neil M. Richards 18 August 2013, Don’t let U.S. government read your e-mail, CNN.


[8] Katie Rogers, 2 October 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Janine Gibson: 10 highlights from their Reddit AMA, Guardian.  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/01/glenn-greenwald-janine-gibson-reddit-nsa

[9] Glenn Greenwald, 27 September 2013 Sen. Ron Wyden: NSA ‘repeatedly deceived the American people’, Guardian.  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/27/ron-wyden-nsa-systematically-deceived

[10] Kurt Opsahl, 27 November 2013 The NSA is Tracking Online Porn Viewing to Discredit “Radicalizers”, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

[11] Ronald Kessler, 2011 The Secrets of the FBI, Crown Publishers, NY as reported by Jay Stanley, 15 October 2013 On the Prospect of Blackmail by the NSA, American Civil Liberties Union.

[12] Jay Stanley, 15 October 2013 On the Prospect of Blackmail by the NSA, American Civil Liberties Union.


[14] Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, Ryan Grimryan, 26 November 2013 Top-Secret Document Reveals NSA Spied On Porn Habits As Part Of Plan To Discredit ‘Radicalizers’, Huffington Post.

[15] Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, Ryan Grimryan, 26 November 2013 Top-Secret Document Reveals NSA Spied On Porn Habits As Part Of Plan To Discredit ‘Radicalizers’, Huffington Post.


About mininganalystnow

Former Wall Street Analyst (working for SBC Warburg – now part of UBS) targeted by US and Australian intelligence agencies (FBI and ASIO) after publishing report touching on US State Department investigation into allegations US copper/gold mining company Freeport McMoran was involved in the killing of indigenous protestors in West Papua, Indonesia.
This entry was posted in ASIO, Cold War, corruption, dissident, FBI, foreign affairs, human rights, Indonesia, intelligence agency, Kissinger, national security, non fiction, West Papua and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s