Friday, June 28, 2013

Icons From the Age of Anxiety: Snitch Culture

Here's my latest dollar-book score at HPB. Written in 2000, before 9-11 happeneed, and even so, a nasty "Snitch Culture" trend was already emerging...

Snitch Culture: How Citizens are Turned into the Eyes and Ears of the State by  Jim Redden

In this alarming expose, investigative journalist Jim Redden examines how snooping has become so much a part of American culture that it is practically a family value, encouraged on billboards, television, and even in classrooms. From employees hired to spy on their coworkers to doctors forced to disclose medical information, the U.S. has developed a chilling network for monitoring its citizens. Worst of all, the information gathered - and widely disseminated - is often unreliable, solicited from paid and anonymous informants. "No one is safe in the Snitch Culture. Jim Redden has written a scary, fascinating, and important examination of the pervasive use and abuse of informants and snitches in the United States." - Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love.

Amazon Reviews

Informative and enlightening by Trent Reinsmith

"Snitches get stitches." A simple message, but in a world where you word is sometimes all you have, it's pretty serious. The world that holds rats, stool pigeons, Judas's and informants in contempt has slowly collapsed in upon itself and is now almost non-existent. A world where people are encouraged to turn in family, friends, co-workers and neighbors has taken its place. Jim Redden takes a look at this world, a world that rewards the weakest of all human traits, a world that is right outside your door; maybe even in your own home.

That's right, the Big Brother that is watching may be your brother! "Tying an unpopular activity to a popular cause is good propaganda and one of the most effective tools for recruiting new informants and justifying more surveillance programs." Read that again and then ask yourself how the government accomplishes this goal. Give up?

Think about the Wars in the US; the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, the War on Terrorism, the general public buys it with a little spin from government and the press. It all tastes so sweet until you look a little deeper and realize that everyone is a casualty of these wars. Friendly fire anyone?

Welcome to the world that Jim Redden is living and working in, welcome to the world that we are all living in.

In his look at this world, Redden questions the role of the snitch, their fallibility and why their word, which should be suspect at best, is taken as gospel so often. The answer will come as no surprise; money and jail sentences.

Redden shows how the D.A.R.E program and other government policies encourage children and family members to turn on each other for the good of the nation. He also exposes how these snitches are paid big bucks and sometimes allowed to commit heinous crimes themselves with no repercussions because they are assisting the government to fry (allegedly) bigger fish.

Redden also details how almost everyone is being watched to some extent during their normal everyday life and mostly without their knowledge. The deep and every growing roots of the snitch culture in America are examined and put under a microscope in this book.

The author details how the government tries to justify its surveillance of left-wing groups and their causes, and how this surveillance has gotten heavier since the WTO and Republican and Democratic conventions of the recent past.

One key item that Redden examines is the difference between a whistleblower and a snitch. Karen Silkwood and Frank Serpico where whistleblowers, Sammy the Bull was a snitch. Redden exposes how the whistleblower, usually a person who is exposing true evil, is often left out on a limb by the government while the snitch is allowed to run roughshod.

Closing out this book are a series of case studies; case studies that range from the history of anti-crime snitching to the Black Panther party and Italian Mafia families being torn apart.

Case studies that show the questionable way in which the government fought crack as well as how they abused forfeiture laws associated with (alleged) crimes. A book like this is filled with information and is not an easy or quick read. It takes some time and thought to get through it. But in the end, if one really reads this book, they will find it an enlightening and unsettling look at the how the tendrils of the state reach out to their lives and the limit their freedom.

As with most of the Feral House titles that fall within the expose genre, this one is well footnoted and documented, making the accusations that much more difficult to refute.

In a culture where the government would like the masses to believe that "it's all for your own good", this type of documentation and footnoting is a must. With Snitch Culture, Jim Redden, Adam Parfrey and Feral House have delivered another blow to the mainstream press, the government, and how they lie and deceive the people they are supposed to be protecting. 

Do you know who's watching you? by Fantail Entertainment

If you were to be told that, at any give moment, any number of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies could break down your front door, arrest and imprison you, seize your property, and even take the lives of you and your loved ones... all because of a tip-off from an unreliable rogue informant who could have picked your name randomly out of a phone book for all anyone knew... how would you feel?

That is the key question Jim Redden poses in his alarming study of the growing "Snitch Culture" that has pervaded the American justice system since the founding of our nation.

"Snitch Culture...How Citizens are Turned into the Eyes and Ears of the State" is an in-depth look at the way various government agencies, including the FBI, CIA, District Attorney, and local police departments routinely employ the services of third-party informants to identify and prosecute those suspected of wrongdoing. The only problem is, most of these informants are they themselves criminals, volunteering information in exchange for reduced prison sentences or, sometimes, financial rewards.

The fear of jail time or the lure of riches is often enough to entice the informant to find someone, anyone, to accuse of committing an illegal act - even a complete stranger. These ulterior motives harbored by the ever-increasing population of government-sponsored snitches are enough to challenge the way we dispense criminal justice in the United States.

But it doesn't end there.

Oftentimes, private corporations and politically-oriented non-profit organizations (such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center) also employ a large number of informants to serve their internal interests.

It is common practice for companies to employ snitches to monitor the performance and conduct of their employees, sometimes outside of work hours. Organizations with strong political agendas, such as the ADL, have been known to turn to informants as sources of information on their opposition. As Redden points out, the use of snitches is nothing new in the public and private sectors of our society.

Several chapters in the book are devoted to tracing the evolution of the informant's role in our culture, from its early American roots when industrialists would employ spies to subvert the activities of local labor unions, to the anti-communist McCarthy "witch hunt" hearings of the 1950s, to the use of informants to infiltrate the counterculture movement of the 60s and 70s.

And as if all of this wasn't alarming enough, in addition to the use of snitches, the government (not to mention the private sector) has adopted a wide range of methods of keeping citizens under constant surveillance, whether they have been accused of committing a crime or not.

Most notable is the vast, multinational information-gathering network known as Echelon. Designed to address the government's concerns that the Internet is the ideal tool for conducting illegal and subversive activities,

Echelon was created to filter through virtually every piece of data crossing the Information Superhighway to find anything that might be remotely construed as "harmful" to public interest.

National "crises" that we so often see in the headlines, such as the Drug Epidemic, are manufactured by the government to justify the billions of dollars spent each year to monitor our every move. The establishment media, rather than questioning this movement, instead works hand-in-hand with the government to spread the propagandistic message that reporting the activities of our family and neighbors to the authorities is our patriotic duty.

The result is that we are living in an ever-expanding police state where nothing we say or do is shielded from the eyes, ears, and punishing hand of Big Brother. "

Snitch Culture" tackles this vital concern from all angles, examining everything from the aforementioned use of snitches and surveillance tactics, to the "Zero Tolerance" polices of public schools, to the government's handling of the WTO protests in Seattle.

Part history, part call-to-action, the book is a true eye-opener to the ways in which our civil liberties are continuously compromised by those claiming to protect us.

Although Redden clearly harbors a libertarian ideology, he manages to present the information in a factual, objective light (all of his sources are comprehensively cited in the footnotes), often portraying both right-wing and leftist groups as victims of government intrusion and persecution without due process.

 But most importantly, "Snitch Culture" supports the freedom of the individual to life his/her life and express his/her views without fear of being ratted out by the snitches that lurk in our shadows.

Great Book by Eli Dapolonia

Snitch Culture is a page-turner. Maybe the best book I've read this year. Brilliantly researched and well documented, Jim Redden digs deep into the way law enforcement works, and uncovers new insights into the way our society is changing right under our noses. Frightening and thought provoking, Snitch Culture is a must read for anyone interested in issues of corruption, privacy, and criminal justice.

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