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McCarthy Era 2000

The weekend bombshell that British and American spy agencies have eavesdropped on world leaders, including politicians, is reminiscent of the 1950's FBI witch-hunt over alleged communist infiltration of the US government. John Howard writes.

Remember Joseph McCarthy, the US senator who was censured in 1954 by the Senate for accusing just about everybody in government and in Hollywood of being a communist spy?

His censure came about because the FBI had been secretly investigating Americans who they alleged were communist agents. Dossiers were kept, secret witnesses interviewed and workers and neighbours were urged to spy on each other - personal lives and whole families were destroyed.

There were a couple of genuine exposures. However, most of the allegations were ultimately proved to be totally false but the shockwaves, even today, still reverberate throughout the US Government and Hollywood.

It was a classic example of "scapegoat politics." Even General Eisenhower's 1952 Republican victory was very largely due to his undertaking to stamp out the communist infiltration of government.

The Republicans were desperate for power after being in exile for nearly two decades and they used every trick in the book to get elected. Once elected, however, Eisenhower allowed it to be known that he looked with disfavour on Senator McCarthy's "methods" and implicitly gave his nod to the Senate censure motion against McCarthy.

It was only in the final stages of the FBI witch-hunt that it was revealed the names of serving politicians also appeared on the secret lists of the FBI. That galvanised the Washington political elite to do something - and quickly.



The American Jewish Committee was also outraged, obviously because of vivid memories of the recent past in Nazi Germany where secret lists were kept along with neighbours encouraged to spy on each other which helped Hitler with his final solution.

To this day, many Jews work tirelessly to ensure that government lists of citizens or census information does not allow race to be identified.

For me, our new driver licence database is a big worry.

So what has all this got to do with the Echelon spy-network monitoring global communications?

We now know that Princess Diana, the Pope, former British and American Cabinet Ministers, Mother Teresa, a number of human rights organisations, international companies and a whole range of people have been monitored through Echelon.

Apparently even a mother saying on the phone that her son "bombed" at a school concert was targeted by Echelon officials.

One whistle-blower, Mike Frost a former Canadian intelligence officer, now says Margaret Thatcher used the spy system to monitor two Cabinet colleagues.

"She wanted to find out not what they were saying, but what they were thinking," Frost says.

What is very disturbing is that part of the Echelon satellite system still exists on New Zealand soil outside Blenheim and the Government doesn't seem interested or concerned enough to do anything.

We now have the IRD asking for medical records of taxpayers which has been descibed as despotism by the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners.

We have the Auckland City Council commissioning private eyes to spy on a ratepayer

And we have had public servants selling government-stored information about citizens to others - and these are just the one's we know about.

There is becoming a culture and mindset within New Zealand's bureaucracy which is not healthy for a democratic nation and it must be stopped. Those who seem themselves as the ruling class must be held personally liable - in the court's if necessary - for their actions.

There is a solution - its called misfeasance in public office. Such an action in the courts will show public servants personally, that they are not fire-proof and cannot hide behind the government machine.

Why should this be necessary? Because it's only one small step further for all manner of Government collected or stored information to be used against its citizens. It's happened before.


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