With the Obama administration mirroring the Bush administration when it comes to
the extension of wiretapping and surveillance laws, it seems that any die-hard
believer in democracy must add to his or her list of New Year’s resolutions.
In 2013, make this the year you FOIA yourself.
To FOIA is to exercise your right under the Freedom of Information Act to see
what the FBI has on you. Generally, it’s nosy reporters who use FOIA to go after
damning government documents. Usually, they end up with documents so redacted
they look like they’ve been gone over with Kim Kardashian’s mascara.
Follow my advice and at least you’ll know if you’re being watched. Then your New
Year’s Resolution goes from losing weight to losing the FBI.
The FBI? Looking at little ol’ timid Asian Americans? Yup.
AALDEF had a Go FOIL
campaign last year after the NYPD was eavesdropping on Muslims. But the FBI is
the big time, and who knows? What they have on you could get you a ticket to
Guantanamo (another Bush legacy in Obama clothing).
I was reminded to FOIA myself when I recently got an email from my academic
friend, UCLA professor Lane Hirabayashi. Lane and his wife, independent scholar
Marilyn Alquizola, have finally published their work on the noted Filipino
American writer Carlos Bulosan and the eavesdropping by the U.S. government he
was forced to endure. It’s in the latest Amerasia
Journal published last month.
What Hirabayashi and Alquizola uncovered was evidence of government spying and
hounding of Bulosan in the last 10-12 years of his life between 1945 and 1955.
It was at the height of McCarthyism and the witch-hunt to root out communist
sympathizers. And Bulosan’s research seems to have attracted attention.The
surveillance activities coincided with Bulosan’s financial troubles and heavy
drinking. All together, they contributed to the notion that Bulosan was not only
unemployable but finished as an artist. But the scholars maintain the years
produced some of Bulosan’s most powerful writing as witnessed in his last novel
published posthumously as both Power of the People and The Cry and the
The scholars’ inquiry began in 1996, when Alquizola filed a Freedom of
Information Act request for the FBI files of Bulosan. Of course, the writer had
one, a thick file that showed how seriously the government viewed Bulosan as a
threat to national security.
The files tell the story of how Bulosan was betrayed by a colleague in the labor
movement who tipped off the feds about a possible connection between Bulosan and
the Huk uprising in the Philippines. There was also talk of Bulosan being the
“No. 1” man among Filipinos in the Communist Party of America, with influence
over uprisings in other Asian countries.
None of it was true, and in 1955, a year before his death, an FBI memo
essentially exonerated Bulosan.
Hirabayashi admits the findings aren’t all that scary. Given the accepted loss
of freedom and privacy in the modern world, what the government did to Bulosan
can easily be dismissed.
But that’s exactly how you know how much freedom you’ve lost.
“The point is, at the end of the day, we don’t know whether Bulosan was, or was
ever, a member of the CPUSA. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice
investigated the issue for five years, though, and they could not find any
concrete data to back up this allegation,” Hirabayashi said. “That was a finding
that we thought was worth reporting–that and the fact that the Bureau’s
clandestine investigation most likely damaged the great author’s finances and
And apparently, there were few takers for Hirabayashi’s findings until Amerasia
Journal published them last month.
“America was in the heart, but the FBI was in his life,”
I wrote about Bulosan in my Amok column back in 2002, when they first told me
about their research. So why did it take 10 years for the academic world to
accept the scholars’ findings on Bulosan?
Hirabayashi told me he sensed that some who might have published it felt
“threatened by this work and probably didn’t want it to see the light of day.”
But isn’t that what happens when you expose the government’s suppression of
freedom? Isn’t that what apparently happened to Bulosan, when he couldn’t get
hired or published while under surveillance?
People who blindly follow the government’s wishes get scared and do the
government’s work for it through self-censorship and censorship of others.
You don’t have to be a lowly Filipino American writer in the 1950s to attract
You can merely be an average citizen who every now and then voices an opinion,
especially now in 2013. The Bush wiretapping and eavesdropping laws have morphed
into the Obama wiretapping and eavesdropping laws.
So make a note to yourself. The FBI probably is.