By Barry Miles
What we consider the British counter-culture began in the mid-60s. There had always been a bohemian underground, a discreet gay scene and a community of artists, but they kept their heads down. Full employment had enabled the growth of youth culture – Mary Quant, the Beatles – but many young people wanted to be more than the youth section of the establishment. In LA, they called themselves freaks; in San Francisco, they were hippies; in New York, they were the underground – it was this term we used in London, despite Fleet Street’s attempt to dub us Flower Children.
The underground was a catch-all sobriquet for a community of like-minded anti-establishment, anti-war, pro-rock’n’roll individuals, most of whom had a common interest in recreational drugs. They saw peace, exploring a widened area of consciousness, love and sexual experimentation as more worthy of their attention than entering the rat race. The straight, consumerist lifestyle was not to their liking, but they did not object to others living it. But at that time the middle classes still felt they had the right to impose their values on everyone else, which resulted in conflict.
The counterculture was apolitical, as far as party politics was concerned because most politicians were seen as lying hypocrites, serving vested interests, not the people. However, it was active in issue-based campaigns: CND, which many of them were involved in during the early 60s, and the anti-Vietnam war campaign which grew out of that. After 1967 came environmental issues, the gay liberation front and the women’s movement.
My involvement came in 1965, when my flatmate John Hopkins (Hoppy) and I looked round the audience at the Albert Hall International Poetry Incarnation – a Beat generation event featuring Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among many others – and realised that there was no publication that even remotely catered to the interests of this community: 7,000 people at a poetry reading! We thought we had better start one ourselves, and after a few trial publications, Hoppy and I launched International Times (IT). We began as an arts paper, with theatrical reviews and interviews, but we also catered to the real interests of our readers. We had a gay column written by “Elizabeth” – homosexuality was still illegal, so a nom de plume was required – and a drug column (for which ditto) giving the price of pot in various cities and outing known undercover cops. It was not long before we were busted.
Can there still be a counterculture in the age of the internet, when a flashmob can assemble in a matter of hours and the latest cutting-edge art event is watched simultaneously across the globe? The strongest remnant of the old underground is the dopers, but as there are an estimated two to five million people regularly smoking marijuana in the UK, they can hardly be regarded as a countercultural phenomena; more as a major component of the multicultural society we live in.
The underground of IT, and later of ecstasy and raves, ended in the early 90s. You can’t have a counterculture when the culture itself is multifaceted, but you can still have an avant garde and you can still drop out. Ultimately, the establishment feeds off the avant garde: street fashions inspire luxury brands, just as the advertising industry trawls the art world for ideas.
The underground papers were produced entirely for idealistic reasons, often communally, and the staff were frequently not paid. The same spirit applies to many experimental art events today. There are still musicians who don’t want to be discovered by Simon Cowell. These people are at the cutting edge, breaking the rules of practice and taste, and sometimes the law. But it is more likely to be Saatchi and Saatchi that raids them than the police.
I like to think that Wikileaks is in the tradition of the underground press, particularly as the US is attempting to suppress it, just as it tried to undermine the underground papers that led the anti-Vietnam campaign. Wikileaks combines an old-fashioned “publish and be damned” ethos with the slightly reckless traditions of the underground press, though IT was far more reckless in its naming of undercover cops and informers than anything Wikileaks has done with its carefully redacted releases.
So is there a counterculture? The police certainly think so: infiltrating environmental groups and no doubt the student protest movement as well. Though the travellers are probably the only true countercultural group left in Britain trying to live a life free of interference and surveillance, the spirit lives on in the student protests, animal rights groups, environmental activists and the anti-globalization movement. The establishment clamps down on resistance with one hand, while ripping off the underground arts with the other. In that respect, it’s just like the 60s.
London Calling: a Countercultural History of London since 1945, by Barry Miles, is published in paperback by Atlantic Books.
COINTELPRO is the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize political organizations.
FBI documents obtained by CBS News reveal a widespread domestic spying and intelligence operation that kept thousands of ordinary American citizens under surveillance throughout the 1980s.
CBS News Anchor Dan Rather reports those being watched ranged from the SANE Nuclear freeze group to the senior Gray Panthers.
While antiwar protesters in the 1960s and ’70s were familiar with FBI surveillance, these newly discovered files show the FBI continued the controversial practice into 1993 and that it continues today.
It turns out the FBI is still spying on American citizens – for the U.S. government.
The main domestic threat, as the FBI sees it, is a lone wolf.
The bureau’s answer has been a strategy known variously as “preemption,” “prevention,” and “disruption”—identifying and neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists, but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.
Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical. Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press conference announcing another foiled plot.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro bombing plot? The New York subway plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.
The FBI dispatched Azir to an Occupy Cleveland event on 21 October 2011, “based on an initial report of potential criminal activity and threats involving anarchists”. Terry Gilbert, a defense attorney, questions why the feds would send “a plant into a peaceful demonstration with a very ambiguous claim of criminal behavior. Once you get an informant in there, they have every motive to get a case. They are trying to make money or are working off a criminal case.”
A recent FBI document calls anarchists “criminals seeking an ideology to justify their activities”, warning they were engaged in “experimentation with new tactics, weapons … leading up to 2012 conventions”.
In the lead-up to the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, federal agents teamed with local police to find and interrogate suspected anarchists.
Newly released documents give hard evidence of an amorphous FBI investigation into the political lives of Occupy participants, one apparently animated by a belief that adherents to the political philosophy of anarchism are prone to criminal activity.
Following the protests of the May 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, rumors and reports abounded of local police and FBI agents raiding apartments, infiltrating meeting places, and questioning activists —particularly anarchists, or those appearing to identify as anarchists—in the months leading up to the summit. A number of the firsthand accounts of encounters with the FBI and Chicago police came from Occupy Chicago activists, who housed out-of-town protesters and planned many of the weekend’s actions. The existence, if not the full extent, of the Chicago Police Department investigation was confirmed during the trial of three young summit protesters dubbed the NATO 3. In testimony from the undercover police behind the arrests, it emerged that plainclothes officers with the CPD Intelligence Unit had visited coffee shops, restaurants and concerts to try to find anarchists discussing the summit.
But the FBI, which has long regarded anarchists as a domestic terror threat and monitored events like the G8 and World Trade Organization meetings, has never confirmed investigating anarchists in advance of the NATO Summit. And a document trove released in December 2012 about FBI monitoring of Occupy protests around the country didn’t include any mention of Chicago.
Now, three FBI documents released in October 2014 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request —published here for the first time—indicate that the agency gathered intelligence about Occupy Chicago general assemblies, and coordinated with local police to find and interrogate suspected anarchists.
One of the documents, an October 2011 Potential Activity Alert titled “Anarchist Advocates Adopting the St. Paul Principles for Occupy Chicago,” suggests that law enforcement either electronically surveilled Occupy Chicago general assemblies (GAs) or had an informant there.
The third document, three unclassified pages of a 30-page report from March 2012, shows the level of cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies—even outside the city of Chicago —and offers further evidence of the FBI’s obsession with finding anarchists amid Occupy activists.
After the suburban Naperville Police arrested a man for “causing a disturbance” on an Amtrak train out of Chicago, they tipped off the FBI that the subject “was involved in Occupy Wall Street,” was heading to Nebraska “to meet up with other like minded anarchists,” and planned to return for the NATO Summit. Under later joint questioning by FBI agents and Amtrak investigators, the subject “refused to elaborate” on his plans and said he would not return for the summit.
As a whole, the documents also bring up issues around the FBI’s cooperation with FOIA requests. Open records advocates routinely criticize the FBI for its lengthy delays and outright denials in responding to FOIA requests. When investigative journalist Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request with the FBI in 2011 seeking documents about Occupy Wall Street, the agency said that none existed. In response to a FOIA request by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund later that year, the FBI released 112 pages of documents.
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have issued a bulletin to law enforcement warning that “anarchist extremists” may use IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices, at the Republican and Democrat national conventions.
“FBI and DHS assess with high confidence anarchist extremists will target… infrastructure with potentially significant impacts on public safety and transportation,” CNN reports.
“During past national and international political and economic events, anarchist extremists have blocked streets, intersections, and bridges to disrupt or impede local business operations and public transportation access and, in some instances have initiated violent confrontations with police,” the document states, according to CNN.
According to a recent report by The Intercept, Black Lives Matter has been under federal surveillance following Ferguson’s rash of riots and violent protests.
Utilizing the Freedom of Information Act, The Intercept was able to obtain documents detailing the months-long surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security. The Black Lives Matter surveillance documents were reminiscent of the FBI’s COINTELPRO days of Black Panther Party surveillance, producing “minute-by-minute reports on protestors’ movements in demonstrations.”
Federal surveillance of African-American organizations is not new.
The Department of Justice archives include surveillance of groups including the KKK and the NAACP, and maintained files on Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. In a conversation with The Intercept, activist Maurice Mitchell identified surveillance as a federal fear tactic.
“When the police are videotaping you at a protest or pulling you over because you’re a well known activist — all of these techniques are designed to create a chilling effect on people’s organizing. This is no different.”
The Washington Post reports that the FBI has been obtaining and reviewing records of ordinary Americans in the name of the war on terror through the use of national security letters that gag the recipients.
“The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms.
The letters — one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people — are extending the bureau’s reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.”
“Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. Their are no examples in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.”
The federal government illegally spies on Americans, every day.
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