SYNDICATED COLUMN: “1984” Is Here. Yawn.

Orwell’s Nightmares Come True — But Who Cares?

Another horror no one will care about: the government is spying on your snail mail.

The New York Times timed the release of the story so that it would come and go without notice: on the Fourth of July, when no one reads the paper or watches the news. But buried beneath a puffy lede is yet another privacy-killing whopper. After 9/11, the Times reports, the U.S. Postal Service created something called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) program, “in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.”

Just a wild guess? How about: forever?

“Together,” the paper continued, “the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.” Any government agency — the FBI, local police, etc. — can request mail cover data. As with the rubber-stamp “FISA court,” the USPS almost always says yes to these outrageous mass violations of privacy.

From George Orwell’s “1984”: “As for sending a letter through the mails, it was out of the question. By a routine that was not even secret, all letters were opened in transit.”

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” the Times quotes former FBI agent James Wedick. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.” Your finances. Your politics. Your friends.

No doubt about it, the dystopian vision laid out by George Orwell in “1984” is here.

Thanks to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, we’ve learned about the previously top-secret PRISM program, in which the U.S. government “collects the e-mail, voice, text and video chats” of every American to be stored in a $2 billion data farm in Utah, as well as sweeping telephone surveillance by Verizon and other telecommunications companies on behalf of the NSA. According to NBC News and other sources, “every single phone call made in the U.S. has been monitored by the U.S. government.” And not, merely, as President Obama and his media shills keep saying, “just” (!) the metadata. Under ECHELON, they listen in to “all telephone, fax and data traffic,” record it, and store it.

From “1984”: “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”

Yes they can.

The dominant eavesdropping technology in “1984” was a device called the “telescreen.” Installed in every home and workplace as an outlet for government propaganda, Orwell’s telescreen “received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.”

Which sounds a lot like the creepy new two-way TV — you watch it and it watches you — for which Verizon filed a patent application in 2011.  This TV would target “ads to viewers based on information collected from infrared cameras and microphones that would be able to detect conversations, people, objects and even animals that are near a TV. If the detection system determines that a couple is arguing, a service provider would be able to send an ad for marriage counseling to a TV or mobile device in the room,” reported the blog Fierce Cable. “If the couple utters words that indicate they are cuddling, they would receive ads for ‘a romantic getaway vacation, a commercial for a contraceptive, a commercial for flowers,’ or commercials for romantic movies, Verizon states in the patent application.”

Verizon’s patent was denied. But now Google TV is going for it. The technology exists; it’s only a matter of time before it finds its way into our homes. Anti-privacy tech types point out it’s only to make ads more effective — the same way web ads react to your searching and browsing. But that’s just for now. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the NSA, FBI or other crazy spook outfit tapping into America’s telescreens in order to watch us in our living rooms and bedrooms.

Gotta stop the terrorists! Whatever it takes.

Ah, the terrorists. The enemies of the state. Bush had his Osama; Obama has Snowden. Bugaboos keep us distracted, fearful, compliant. “The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again,” the government official goon O’Brien lectures Winston Smith in “1984.” “The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease.”

They can’t.

Governments rule over the governed either by obtaining their tacit consent, or by crushing potential opponents by making them afraid to speak up. Option two is where we are now.

One horror follows another. At Guantánamo concentration camp, where les misérables of America’s War of Terror languish for year after year, uncharged with any crime, U.S. government goons announced that they will continue to force-feed more than 100 hunger strikers during Ramadan, a month-long holiday when devout Muslims are required to fast. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy in London because he fears extradition to and execution by the U.S.; Ecuador has discovered that some Western intelligence agency planted a bug to watch him. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden has been de facto stripped of his U.S. citizenship, his passport canceled, rendering him effectively stateless. Meanwhile, the megacriminals he exposed — Obama and his cronies — are living large.

Assange and Snowden are no longer important. They’ve done all the damage they can do. But the U.S. will never leave them, or any other enemy of the state, alone. It’s about terrifying potential political opponents into submission.

“Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared,” O’Brien tells Winston. “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

Enjoy your barbecue.
(Ted Rall’s website is His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)



  • I doubt whether the NY Times “timed” the story about the snail mail snooping – it presumes that the editor or whomever is constantly “timing” everything to fit a political purpose – But, I do think most US citizens don’t have a clue about what is going on around them, and for some reason, don’t seem to care much about it. Like Belushi once said in a film – “Sell me your children!”

    • Rikster, I know it seems conspiratorial, but the Times absolutely times sensitive articles in accordance with a political agenda. It’s been admitted to by their editors, and I’ve heard it from their reporters and their editors.

      Wanna make a big splash? Put the story out on Sunday. Or Monday. Wanna bury it, but be able to claim that you did it and get an eager beaver reporter off your back? That’s what Saturdays are for.

      These investigative pieces are weeks or sometimes even months in the works. They can release them any day. Which day it is tells a lot.

      If you only read the news one day a week, buy the thinnest newspaper (the one with the fewest ads). It’ll have the juiciest news.

  • alex_the_tired
    July 5, 2013 7:29 PM


    I think Ted’s right. That the post office photographs the envelopes of everyone? It’s a national-scale program. There’s simply no way to try to minimize it: they’re copying the front of letters. What’s next? Send the letters through a fluoroscope. Should be easy to write a program to parse the internal content.

    It’s one thing to walk past your window, glance out, and see your neighbor changing clothes through his window. It’s another thing altogether to stand by your window with a camera and wait.

  • Even Russia won’t sell us their children anymore…..Uncle Sam has become the crazy uncle that distorts and trashes everything he touches now, and the rest of the world is more than a little scared of US. Why is there so little sanity and care for each other left in the USA? Why do we have to trash our own backyard, police the world AND destroy Paula Deen?

  • exkiodexian
    July 8, 2013 10:06 AM

    First off — your site still isn’t working right. It took over a minute to load this page.

    On this piece, the “yawn” part is correct but your analysis is not cogent. Orwell got it wrong. In fact Orwell got it doubly wrong. Not only isn’t the government imposing a surveillance state upon an unwilling populace, what we have is way worse. We have a population that has enabled and graciously invited the government, and corporations, to spy on us. We put out the welcome mat and said, “please do”. Just take a look at all these pathetic liberals defending the spying and welcoming it with open arms. As they adjust their preppy clothes, put on after-shave, drink their espresso, kiss the kids before sending them off to private school, get in the Lexus and go to their fat-cat job make low six figures — they say, “please spy on me and keep me safe, for I’ve got nothing to hide. I also don’t want my lifestyle being interrupted. I’m a good little consumer, just like Bernays wants us to be. So, please spy. I won’t make trouble and complain. I’m good little obedient consumer — I promise.”

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. The Enablers are the problem. They are the worst. They are numerous, they are shameless, and they are devoid of any principles whatsoever. Oh, except for one: Obedience. That’s one principle they embrace wholeheartedly.

  • The site is working good here – Allright!

  • Exkid – I think you are talking about a minority of people in your rant? – as “most people” who make a salary anywhere near “low six figures” is actually confusing and misleading.. Please excuse me, but I think I understand that you are trying hard to talk about people that may aspire to or actually be in the 1%.? What you say is a bit confusing. A lot of people who are earning “low six figures” or even higher probably have assets totalling much more, so they are not even near being the “middle class”. I think what you are trying to say is that people that are getting by or doing well are ignoring and enabling what is going on? Is that what you are trying to say? I agree, but I think you should read what you have written a couple of times to proofread it and make sure it doesn’t come off as off-course or a bit crazy. What is left of the middle class in the USA is usually trying to keep its head own, and not be noticed. Hey, by the way, have you ever used the word “nigger”. If so, you may be able to have the media and others grab hold of you and wring you out to dry, you horribly bad person, you! LOL :^)

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