Full Spectrum Peeping Tomism

In 1928, Ho Chi Minh was in Thailand while his Chinese wife, Zeng Xueming, remained in Canton. He sent her this letter:

From the day we parted, already more than a year.
I miss you with such anguish, it needn’t be said.
Borrowing rosy wings, I send a few lines to reassure you.
Such is my desire, and I wish your mother ten thousand good lucks.
Clumsily yours.

Translating, I’ve kept intact Ho’s tone and “rosy wings” image, which indicates a high flying, red colored bird, but also implies rose petals. Though it sounds weird in English, it does convey his sweetness and anguish. Ho’s letter never made it to his beloved, however, for it was intercepted by French intelligence and is now stored at the Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence.

Ho never saw his wife again. Considering all the  turbulences and dangers Ho encountered, this episode may come across as so minor, an interesting footnote in a life defined by cataclysmic upheavals, but it is still a disturbing example of how the state, with its despotic power, guns and spooks, can so casually yet completely disrupt lives. Zeng Xueming simply assumed her husband had abandoned her. After reading this intercepted letter, the French could still allow it to be sent, but why bother? Ho was their enemy, after all, and though this missive had no value as intelligence, it was still carefully stashed away, while in Canton, a young woman pined. She never remarried, by the way.

If a lawless outfit will laugh as it kills, then even piss on the corpses afterwards, then of course it will intercept your stupid letters, or goofy emails, to bring things up to date. The unprecedented reach of this criminal gang will also allow it to monitor and harass an unprecedented number of people. If it doesn’t like you, specifically, it can sabotage not just your personal life, but your financial and professional well being as well. A job offer or job application can be intercepted, then tossed out. An important business communication can be deleted or tampered with. These goons can implode your entire existence, in short. And let’s us be clear about this: You don’t have to be a world class revolutionary to warrant their attention. With their unprecedented budget, humongous staff and state of the art equipments, they have more than enough resources to tail, electronically or physically, anything on this earth that can grumble, shout or wave a fist. They can even crush you by mistake and not worry about it.

With its army of hackers, the NSA can penetrate just about any computer, but occasionally a more direct molestation is required. In a December 30, 2013 article, Der Spiegel points out that the NSA sometimes intercept brand new computers as they’re being delivered, so malicious software and/or hardware can be inserted into them. These are then used to track targeted individuals. Of course, our criminally complicit media ignored this bombshell completely, as if it’s Norman Rockwell-OK that our postal service is in cahoots with the monstrous NSA, and that our possessions can be tampered with by our sneeringly lawless government.

We’re still in the early stage of our Fascist transformation, so until the jackboots step on their ituned heads, many Americans will dismiss talks of Big Brother as mere paranoia. To these folks, systematic evil is always somewhere else, in Iran, Syria, China, North Korea or Russia, not here, and so any closer look at who killed Gary Webb or Michael Hasting, for example, is instantly dismissed as conspiracy lunacy. Other regimes harass, arrest, torture or kill truth seekers, but somehow not this one, they will insist, and so they would not believe that Tom Feely of Information Clearing House was threatened by two thugs in a parking lot, with one saying, “You need to stop what you are doing on the web,” or that three well-dressed men barged into Tom’s house to terrorize his wife. Again, the message was that he must “stop what he is doing on the Internet, NOW!” Reporting this 2008 incident, Mike Whitney said that Tom’s wife then contacted the FBI, but of course they did nothing. I’m inclined to think that all of these enforcers were from the FBI, or at least one of our other intelligence agencies. We’ve got so damn many. For his part, Tom wondered why “They are reaching down SO far to get someone who just runs a web site.”

The more oppressive a government, the more it seeks to monopolize information, but totalitarianism has progressed from simple censorship to one that relies mostly on nonstop distraction. With so much crap addling each brain, a dissident doesn’t necessarily have to be arrested, since he’s already being ignored by nearly everyone. The trouble maker still needs to be watched, however, and since any oppressive government is essentially a control freak, it will monitor an irrationally huge number of people, and will reach very far down indeed. None, however, has attempted such a comprehensive dragnet as the United States of America, for it’s attempting to spy on, literally, the entire world, and won’t stop until it has achieved full spectrum peeping tomism.

This past week, there was some irregularity with my email account. On Wednesday, Press TV sent me an email before noon, but it only arrived seven hours later. I thus missed my interview with the Iranian station. That same day, an organizer of a poetry festival at the Lincoln Center sent me an invitation to participate, but this email only showed up 26 hours later and, most curiously, it came as a “Forwarded message.” When I asked the sender how this could happen, she couldn’t answer. Now, these two instances might just be technical glitches, but perhaps not, especially the delayed message from Press TV. A thorn in the side of the US Empire, Press TV has been removed from the American, European and even East Asian markets, and it’s fair to assume that all communications to and from Press TV are being monitored by American intelligence, and since I’ve been providing political commentaries on Press TV for over three years now, it’s a safe bet that I’m also on the NSA’s radar. In fact, it would be very naïve of me to think otherwise.

When I ruminated on my blog about the NSA, Press TV and your lowly self, I received this comment, “Is this a sly attempt at humor? Do you think US Intelligence agencies really would jam up your email based on your intelligent writing and commentary on world events? You’re not that important in the multi-decade schemes of these systems.” His mocking tone made me suspect he might be a government troll, for they will routinely mock all opponents while taking them very seriously. Just think of Occupy, for example. Even as the government spent lots of money and time to infiltrate that movement, it made them out to be incoherent freaks with poor hygiene whose ideas should just be ignored. Every protest movement in the US has been mocked and caricatured. Left or right, it doesn’t matter, they have all been turned into freaks should they dare to doubt the righteousness of their criminal rulers, but this can only mean the government takes dissent most seriously, with trolls even sent into forums to disrupt debates among ordinary, “unimportant” citizens.

Though only a bottom feeding fish lurking in the darkest water, I nevertheless attracted the spooks’ attention when I was living in Saigon from 1999 to 2001. I will recount my experience there since it echoes some of what we’re going through here, and even prefigures what we will encounter. Most of my friends in Saigon were poets, a group that has become increasingly irrelevant in every postmodern society. With almost no one reading them, there was no longer a need to arrest poets, but still we were being watched, just in case. As a translator of Vietnamese literature into English, I also elicited extra scrutiny since I was a kind of gateway, not unlike, say, an editor of a dissident webzine. I had already published Night, Again, an anthology of fiction that included a number of banned writers.

Under that impossibly hot sun, we would often meet to drink iced beer and talk about everything. There was one among us whom everyone suspected to be an undercover cop, so the conversation had to be curbed whenever this sly dude was around. After so many decades under totalitarianism, people had well internalized which subjects, or even words, to avoid, at least in suspect company. That too will happen here, if we don’t veer from our current vector, and Americans will also learn to become more suspicious of nearly everything and everyone. The currency of any oppressive government is a steady stream of lies, so in that sense, we’re well on our way down that septic whirlpool. These days, almost every sentence that’s burped up by an American official is a bald lie, with not even a farcical comb over, but here’s the most insidious part to all this. Being lied to all the time, many of us will also learn to routinely pervert truth ourselves. Even our children will do this. You watch.

So I was definitely being watched, you see, but to what extent I didn’t really know until 2001, when I was invited by the Lannan Foundation to give a poetry reading back in the States. Thinking I might not be allowed to return to Vietnam, I paid a corrupt cop $500 for a businessman’s visa, since this afforded me multiple entries. Done with my little song and dance in Santa Fe, plus additional readings in Boston and New York, I flew back to Saigon with a large bag of books for my friends. Toting the contrabands, I readied myself to bribe the airport official, but luckily, he never even noticed them. The lateness of my arrival, past 2AM, might have had something to do with his negligence, but I was more than glad to save a few bucks.

After a day-long flight, I barely slept but was up by 8:30, such was my excitement to give books to my friends, so I called to arrange a meeting that very morning. Soon as I hung up the phone, however, it rang, and I mean immediately, with barely a second in between, and the guy on the other end was, you guess it, the cop assigned to monitor me. I still remember his first name, “Viet,” which is as patriotic as you can get. Very tersely, Viet huffed that he was coming over to chat with me. Though he was clearly furious to find out that I had left the country without his knowledge, he didn’t mention this fact when he showed up, but merely asked about my trip in a pseudo friendly way. Before he arrived, though, I had hidden the most incriminating books under my bed, but leaving enough on my desk so he had enough to frown at. Viet opened a volume on Balthus, looked at the reproductions of the languorous and budding nude teens, voiced his mild disapproval, but did not confiscate it. After staying for at least half an hour, Viet left.

Speaking of confiscation, the Saigon post office had already seized my short story collection, Fake House, when this was sent to me earlier that year. I still have the receipt somewhere. On it, the reason given for the confiscation is that the book is “decadent and reactionary.” I remember trying to argue with the post office official. I tried to reason that since the book was in English, it wouldn’t have any impact whatsoever in Vietnam, but the lady didn’t buy it. I also joked that since I was the author of the book, I couldn’t corrupt myself. She didn’t laugh.

Even after I left Vietnam in 2001, I was not done with its friendly and thorough intelligence service, for my writing in Vietnamese has several times provoked their irritated reaction. They’d send me a fake email accompanied by a virus, for example. Let’s say I have a friend named WXYZ, with a moc.oohaynull@ZYXW email account. The Vietnamese intelligence would set up a nearly identical account, moc.oohaynull@ZYXW_ . See the difference? Just a _ before the other email address. Using this fake account, they would send me an email purportedly from WXYZ but with a virus in the attachment.

A Vietnamese-Australian academic returning to Saigon on a visit was called several times to the police station. At these interrogations, he would be asked about his associates inside the country and overseas, including me. Now, there is something very old school about these Vietnamese tactics, but don’t think that America won’t resort to them also, for when it comes to intimidation and violence, we can be as crude and naked as they come.

I won’t bore you with more of these Vietnam incidents, but suffice it to say that even a lowly critic of the regime will be tracked by the government, for polemics and insights still matter, in spite of everything. Moreover, a government that feels itself vulnerable will naturally increase suppression. Look for a heavy crackdown on voices of dissent as our society becomes more unstable from the impending financial collapse, and as our economy deteriorates further from its already wretched condition. That, my fellow targets, is our true state of the union.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.