Be Seeing You

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We are living in justifiably paranoid times. Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, we’ve witnessed the hasty passage of legislation that has given federal and local government unprecedented power to spy on us citizens. Searches without warrants, the FBI’s Carnivore program (which gathers up our private emails), surveillance cameras where there were no surveillance cameras before–all to keep an eye on us in the name of "security." Even Orwellian programs that were abandoned (so we’re told) before they got underway–like TIPS and Total Information Awareness–were planned and publicized, which in itself is pretty spooky.

Underground publishing houses like Loompanics Unlimited and Paladin have, in a way, been preparing for these days for years. They’ve released books that promise to teach readers the proper ways to manufacture illicit drugs, become a hit-man, hack computers, forge IDs, dispose of bodies, build bombs, avoid taxes and disappear. Most of them have self-explanatory titles like Dirty Tricks Cops Use, Personal Privacy Through a New Identity and Vest Busters: How to Make Your Own Body-Armor-Piercing Bullets.

When you hear that the FBI has been demanding that libraries turn over lists of the books people have read, these are the sort of titles they’re looking for. Funny thing about that is, most of the time these books turn out to be disappointments–not nearly as complete and informative as they promise to be.

Nevertheless, in the interest of those of you who, like me, are simply not interested in being surreptitiously snooped on by anyone for whatever reason, I recently acquired a small pile of books from various underground presses. All of them, in one way or another, from one direction or another, deal with the issue of ducking government radar–avoiding surveillance, staying off databases and the like. Not an extensive and exhaustive list by any means (there are dozens of such books available), but enough to get a feel for what’s out there. I knew the "personal freedom" genre existed long before the attacks, but I never paid much attention to it. I never really felt the need before. Given what’s been happening over the past year and a half, however, I was curious to see what had become of the genre–and how the books had adapted themselves to a world in which many of the things they’d only speculated about have become harsh realities.

The immediate problem was that only two of the books I found had been released or updated since the time of the attacks, ensuring much of the information in the other titles would be mighty–but not completely–outdated.

Although one of the older titles, Tony Lesce’s 1998 They’re Watching You! remains a solid overview of the world of high-tech surveillance. From CCTVs to wiretaps, to smart cards to biometric scanners and the internet, Lesce illustrates how these tools work, and how they can be used to various unpleasant ends–from people trying to sell you things you don’t want to law enforcement officials arresting and imprisoning you unjustly.

Lesce (author of The Shotgun in Combat and Bodyguarding: A Complete Manual) outlines both the obvious and the subtle. (I never knew, for instance, that those innocuous supermarket "discount cards" were used primarily to create consumer profiles for marketing firms.) And in that way he’s very good. As far as detailing ways to avoid some of these technologies, most of the advice is simple common sense. Pay cash whenever possible. Use pay phones. Cover your license plate with plastic wrap to thwart photo radar cameras. It comes down to this: The only way to completely avoid surveillance in this day and age is to become homeless. But even that won’t do it anymore.

Less helpful, but much funnier, is Jefferson Mack’s Invisible Resistance to Tyranny. The premise is very simple: It’s possible to live freely the way you’d like, right under the nose of a tyrannical government. All you need to do is pretend to be a good citizen–drive the speed limit, pay your taxes, give them no reason whatsoever to pay any attention to you. Meanwhile, while they’re not paying attention, you can do whatever the hell you want. Once you start doing that, Mack suggests, you’ll meet others who are doing the same, and you’ll be able to form your own little free communities.

Mack opens the book by insisting that these communities would be non-violent. Nothing at all like those wacky militias we heard so much about back in the mid-90s. He’s just talking about people with shared interests living together peacefully, helping each other out, while paying no mind whatsoever to the government. Yet, by the end of the book, the members of these free communities have been given tasks ranging from intelligence collection, to reconnaissance, to disinformation, to assassination. In the end, what Mack’s book amounts to is "how to start your own militia." Being one of the two post-attacks titles here, it’s interesting to note that the armed communities described in the latter part of the book are not organized to battle the government, he insists, but rather for protection against terrorists.

Given the way the book opens, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. But then again, it’s a Paladin book–and Paladin’s always been a bit more hardcore than most. Still, if you want to know how to set up a militia, there are far better resources out there–resources that don’t pull any punches.

The Professional Paranoid by H. Michael Sweeney tells you how to become just that. When the book opens with, "Even if you only think you might be targeted by some person, group or agency, it is probably true," you realize immediately what you’re dealing with. Sweeney teaches the reader how to be scared of strangers, of noises, cars, lamp posts, loved ones, co-workers, computers, locksmiths, mailmen, shopkeepers and inviso-rays. According to Sweeney, most anything and everything is a potential (if not actual) threat.

The Professional Paranoid is not a book about avoiding government surveillance so much as it’s about avoiding everything to the point of committing a kind of living suicide–alienating everyone around you, making yourself unemployable and getting yourself thrown out of your own apartment. Near the end of the book, he even suggests wearing a tinfoil lining in your hat to protect yourself from various electronic weaponry.

When it comes to hard, technical data about the things you need to be looking for in order to justify your paranoia, Sweeney’s book can’t be beat. If Sweeney tells you to be on the lookout for someone who seems to be following you down the sidewalk for an unusually long time, you’ll see someone following you down the sidewalk.

Then again, the way things are going, this may well be the most important book of the lot.

The most thorough–and most annoying–book on the pile is Claire Wolfe’s I Am Not a Number. Unlike the others, the target of her paranoia is fairly focused–in her case, it’s Social Security numbers (which she calls Beast Numbers and Slave Numbers). But Wolfe uses the all-pervasive Beast Number as a springboard to cover issues dealt with by all the other authors (surveillance tech, free communities, etc.).

The book has a lot going for it–fine detail, a wider scope than most and good references. Unfortunately, these are undermined by Wolfe’s abrasive attitude. She comes off like an embittered Earth Mother who never saw her revolution come about, and is still convinced that she and only she is right and holds everyone else in contempt for not doing their part. In her preface to the new edition, Wolfe details her reluctance to bring the book back into print because she felt that people were too stupid to understand her. That sort of thing continues throughout the text, where anyone who doesn’t agree with her, do what she suggests or feel any pressing desire to drop out is a "slave" or "herd beast."

What she wants people to do is remove themselves from the SSN system altogether. Doing such a thing–she’s very clear about this–comes with a great deal of hardship. With no SSN, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get a driver’s license, or insurance, or a job, or a bank account, or to legally marry. You give in to the number, she argues, and you become their slave. The alternative is to move into the woods and become self-sufficient.

The bulk of her book is spent explaining how to go about creating a utopian "free community" from the ground up. There are chapters on arranging for medical care, communications, sanitation, etc., in a community beyond the reach of the government where no one has a Slave Number. Thirty years ago we would’ve called it a commune.

The most disturbing thing about Wolfe’s book is that, though it’s been updated for the post-attacks world, it hasn’t been updated very much. After railing against the Clinton administration’s efforts to get SSNs onto driver’s licenses nationwide (making them nothing less than national ID cards), she is oddly silent when it comes to the various invasions of personal privacy instituted by the current administration. She mentions Operation TIPS, but dismisses it as something that will never pass; other programs she doesn’t mention at all. It’s almost as if she’s afraid to criticize the current administration because it’s Republican.

For paranoids, these authors sure do buy into the government’s line. The attacks were undertaken by evil terrorists who hate America; in response, we really need to beef up "security" by whatever means in order to keep ourselves safe. In the end, Sweeney and Wolfe seem to have concluded that the government really is the Great Protector it always claimed to be–something I find awfully suspect.

In the end, none of these books will help you disappear. None of them offer help in removing personal information from the dozens of national databases in which we’re all listed. In the end, the only two alternatives seem to be living in a cave or faking your own death. Fortunately, there are several books available that can teach you how to do both of those things, too.

They’re Watching You!: The Age of Surveillance
By Tony Lesce, Breakout Productions, 130 pages, $12.95

Invisible Resistance to Tyranny
By Jefferson Mack, Paladin Press, 152 pages, $15

I Am Not a Number (second edition)
By Claire Wolfe, Loompanics Unlimited, 208 pages, $17.95

The Professional Paranoid
By H. Michael Sweeney, Feral House, 210 pages, $12.95

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