A local activist came to Digital Fourth with a strange story to tell.
She was stopped early in the morning at a Canadian border crossing. During the stop, she was interviewed inside. During that interview, the border guard who initially stopped her walked in, to by the desk where she was, and handed the interviewer a Post-It note. On the note was her name, with “Operation Chaos” written on it in Magic Marker.
Says our volunteer:
“It was huge and right in my face and they were all perfectly casual about it, so I asked, “What is Operation Chaos? ” and I was told it was a random search program where they pulled people out of line to check for whatever they check for. I had to answer some questions about how long I was in Canada and Boston and what I was doing there. also how long I had lived in Boston in the past and this last round (about a year). They asked if the moving van was locked, it was not, and said they were searching it. They searched it with dogs and did not find anything other than liquor purchased at the duty free shop in New York. It all took about ten minutes once they started searching. I did not have anything illegal with me. […] They were surfing the web, and to be honest, I don’t think any of them were really engaged; it was about 2:30 in the morning. I mean the desk officer was busy looking at his screen when the note was handed to him and he just stuck it to the counter. […] They did not ask me anything about political activities, but they looked over my record for a while I filled out the paperwork. I do not have an arrest record.”
When she got home, she looked up “Operation Chaos” on the Internet, and found that there was an Operation Chaos run by the CIA, which started under Johnson, continued under Nixon, was exposed, and then supposedly ended in 1974. Operation Chaos aimed to identify foreign influence over student protest movements.
Our volunteer has been involved in various peaceful digital activism and social justice movements, and her parents were SNCC and SDS members who were under continuous surveillance in the 1960s and 1970s. Both of these organizations are named as having been targets of Operation CHAOS, which implemented an early form of the phone metadata dragnet made famous by Edward Snowden. She says, “J. Edgar Hoover wrote a letter to the local FBI office asking them to harass my father indefinitely.”
This is all one hell of a coincidence.
Let’s consider carefully what this means.
The agents described their Operation Chaos as a “random” search program, which would, if true, make it different from the historical Operation Chaos. However, that’s exactly what border agents are trained to say if questioned as to their reasons for stopping someone; I have had the same response myself when I have asked why I am receiving secondary screening.
We have two choices. Either the border agents are running a genuinely random program that coincidentally shares a name with a CIA program that harassed student activists, or it is in fact not random, and is part of a program that still seeks to do the same thing, and that is pursuing some sort of intergenerational grudge against activist families, especially those of color.
Why think the latter? Consider, for example, the case of Ayyub Abdul-Alim in Massachusetts, whose parents were members of the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party, who appears to have been targeted to become an FBI informant, and who is in jail today because of it. Whether we call it “Operation Chaos” or not, there is without a doubt continued domestic surveillance and harassment of peaceful protest movements such as Black Lives Matter. In this context, is it really so implausible that such a program may in fact have revived or have been continued, and that the CIA is continuing to conduct surveillance of people associated by blood with its original targets?
Could momentary sloppiness by a tired border guard have just revealed the continued existence of a secret surveillance program?