In Brief — The author’s experiences with government surveillance while he was involved with draft and military counseling during the Vietnam War. [Written in mid-April 2017.]
Peek-a-boo, We’re Spying on You —
Spying. It’s as old as when our human ancestors came down out of the trees. Humans and governments have always sought to protect themselves by covertly learning what their opponents are up to. It’s not unusual, but the methods have become more sophisticated and more intrusive.
When I practiced Selective Service law, those of us who kept young men from the killing fields of Vietnam found safety by knowing the Selective Service law better than those whose job it was to send young men into harm’s way. We knew where the red line was and made a sincere effort to avoid crossing that line.
One evening at dusk after a long day in the office, I rounded a curve on Mulholland Drive that wound its twisty way atop the Santa Monica mountains. I was late arriving at the monthly meeting of the L.A. Selective Service Law Panel, lawyers who opposed the government’s efforts. My headlights illuminated a neatly dressed man who was working with a large piece of electronic equipment in his car’s open trunk. He quickly stopped what he was doing until I was past. As the house where the meeting took place was within sight, it was obvious that we were being surveilled, but this type of surveillance was beyond a known plant who was attending the meeting under false colors.
On yet another occasion, I was approached by an attractive young lady in our small alley parking area. She said she was interested in working in our office. No position was available. Why a young woman? Why in the back alley? Why not a young man? Why me? A coincidence? Paranoia? Just askin’.
In the office we often spoke on the phone with colleagues, doctors or clients. At that time, a phone was unlike today’s mobile phones. Today’s technology makes surveillance more complicated than when J. Edgar Hoover tapped Martin Luther King, politicians or suspected Hoover enemies. In the Vietnam War era, it was a simple matter to tap a phone. Our phones were a piece of cake.
On a number of occasions it was not unusual to hear a click followed by a slight drop in volume. We can’t prove our phones were being tapped, but oddly it never occurred with our home phones. It was a safe guess to assume that the government was tapping our phones, but we weren’t concerned because we always followed the law.
Honey-trap Time —
Ever hear of a honey-trap? That’s when an attractive person (in my case, a female) is used to entrap a target in order to get information, leverage or prosecutable evidence.
An attractive young woman showed up where I was teaching pottery on the weekends and immediately focused on me although I have no recollection of her ever being a student. I was an eligible professional known to be a ladies’ man. I thought she was worth exploring, so I invited her for dinner. During the course of our evening’s conversation, I learned that despite her mature appearance she was underage so I determined she was off limits. As usual, I was polite but impliedly not interested in a further relationship. She knew it. That evening was the last time I saw her.
I’ve often thought that it was a honey-trap set by the government to entrap an active anti-war lawyer. I did draft counseling for paying clients and counseled poor young men at the Los Angeles Free Clinic. I was occasionally on speaking panels with Quakers. I was a regular speaker on the ACLU law panel, and the scuttlebutt was that I was loathed by the Marine officers at Camp Pendleton where I represented a Marine who wanted out. I can’t prove I was targeted, but the coincidences point to that conclusion. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…etc.
A common method of gaining intelligence on an opposition group that’s used even today is to have a person infiltrate the opposition group and report on the group’s activities. As I mentioned earlier, we had such an infiltrator in the L.A. Selective Service Law Panel. Bill Smith, the leader of the panel, greeted the unnamed and unidentified infiltrator in a light-hearted manner and proceeded with the meeting as usual since we had nothing to hide.
Such was the life of a Los Angeles draft lawyer during the Vietnam War era. Such is life in this technological age today. Today, however, is considerably more complex than when I was part of the opposition. These days we have lost our privacy to an ever-growing surveillance state that threatens to become an autocratic monster. Are you afraid yet?
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