It’s now been 25 years since the “Iron Curtain” came down – an event usually centered on the Berlin Wall, but actually applying to hundreds of millions of people living in a dozen countries on the European continent. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) has devoted a portion of its web site to telling stories about the “Iron Curtain” and its aftermath (“Europe 25 Years On”), but few younger people bother to check it out. Most of America’s citizens have no recollection of the “Cold” War or of the methods employed by “the other side” to control and manipulate really huge populations, until it all imploded under its own dead weight around 1990. It is mainly these younger American citizens who are so infatuated with technology that they see only benefits of such methods, and are so poorly educated that they have no basis to evaluate the dangers.
I spent 17 of the 25 years from 1967 to 1992, from Hamburg to Berlin to Munich to Zagreb to Athens and other places, trying to peer through the “Iron Curtain”, trying daily to deal with (and exploit) divided families, dedicated activists, dreamers risking literally everything, charlatans playing all sides against the others, junior Warsaw Pact military officers briefly off their reservation, working with fearless US Army Special Forces soldiers with heavy accents from “over there”, watching the hair of normal people turn white with repeated travels across deadly borders, training and debriefing them and others over endless days and nights in dingy safe houses, trying to discern why some of them simply vanished into the ether and never came back, writing ops reports in the middle of the night that seemed to take on of their own volition characteristics of tragic novelettes ending only with questions, helplessly watching people, friends, gunned down right in front of my eyes just yards on the other side of the wire.* It was not a good time in my life; moments of satisfaction were few and far between. Sometimes, in between the “undeclared conflicts”, I would have preferred the shooting wars; at least most of them eventually led to some resolution.
Our primary focus then was powerful Soviet/Warsaw Pact military forces deployed in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In 1980, over 80,000,000 citizens resided in these four countries alone. In West Berlin I lived for years in a bright vibrant diamond in the middle of a dismal gray sea – a huge city completely surrounded by walls and barbed wire and watch towers and free-fire zones, all built and designed by the other side to keep its own people from escaping. Our main strategic objective in Europe was to assess those military forces, so as to be prepared should they decide to move westward, so as to present enough of our own force to ensure they would not make that decision. The strategic objective, until President Reagan came along in the early 1980s, was never to undermine those forces in place, something that was deemed by all the “experts” in the West as simply impossible to achieve short of all-out nuclear war. The objective for a long time was to simply keep a finger on the pulse, and just doing that was deadly dangerous. And there was a whole “southern tier” and northern Baltic states, too, of “lesser importance” – the Balkans and the Baltic “on the edges”. And finally there was Soviet Russia itself and its near satellite Soviet republics.
To do what was necessary required a great appreciation of life “over there”, and also, it often seemed, the futile determination of Sisyphus. Always overwhelming literally everything everywhere “over there” was the suffocating oppressive environment in which all of these people had to live their daily lives, and still somehow survive, hopefully sane. Those of us charged with penetrating that environment, working in it, flirting with capture or death, faced nearly impossible barriers, but those barriers for us were nowhere nearly as daunting as for all those who lived every day under its constant omniscient presence.
The truth was that that environment was far more suffocating and oppressive than even I, or they, could imagine was even possible.
“Fighting the system”, of course, used to be very dangerous anywhere in Eastern Europe and Russia – all the way 5,000 miles east to the China Sea. The excellent 2006 German film, “The Lives Of Others”, based on a true story, for all its really scary atmosphere, still didn’t do full justice to the overwhelming sense of constant psychological terror that ruled the lives of everyone under the all-seeing oppression of Soviet communism. Communist East Germany’s Stasi had one spy for every 6.5 of its own citizens, but similar conditions existed everywhere “over there”. For one protester from a small Romanian village, for example, fighting the system was disastrous – and also for his family, whose every word was permanently recorded by the secret police. It once seemed to me that such stories numbered in the millions, were simply universal – “everywhere else”. God, how I at that time loved what my ancestors – through their own blood, sweat and tears, driven solely by a burning desire to leave to their children a better future than had greeted them – had ensured that America offered its citizens. Those freedoms were our best defense against the alternative with which I had to deal; one ideology far out-shining the other, for all the world to see, and judge.
(Note: Nicolae Ceaușescu, a Communist politician, was General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, and ruthless head of state from 1967 to 1989. In the only violent removal of a Communist government in the course of the revolutions of 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, fled the capital in a helicopter but were captured by the armed forces. On 25 December the couple were hastily tried and convicted by a special military tribunal on charges of genocide and sabotage of the Romanian economy in an approximately one-hour long court session. Both were then shot by a firing squad.)
How the secret police tracked my childhood
BBC, 1 April 2014, by Carmen Bugan. (Bugan is the author of the memoir “Burying the Typewriter: Childhood Under the Eye of the Secret Police” (Picador, 2013) and “Crossing the Carpathians” (Oxford Poets, 2005), a collection of poems written in America, Ireland and England about exile and family.)
Soon after my brother’s birth in February 1983 my father, Ion Bugan, was faced with the biggest decision he ever had to make.
Should he and my mother continue secretly typing anti-communist manifestos on an illegally-owned typewriter and distributing them around Romania? Or should he go to Bucharest to take on Ceausescu all by himself, without telling anyone a word about it?
Thirty years on we still live with the legacy of my father’s choice. And with the discovery of an intimate, horrifying story of our lives written by the secret police, the Securitate.
This was a Romania of food shortages, frequent power cuts, and ferocious reprisals for any form of dissent. The sounds of forbidden US radio stations – Voice of America and Radio Free Europe – woke us up and put us to bed every day, sending shivers up our spines as they merged with the noise from the kitchen. They gave my father hope that life could be better if only people stood up for themselves.
The Securitate was well acquainted with my parents. ((The father, Ion Bugan, a big and strong man, was born in 1935 in Romania. In 1961 he was single and 26, and Jack Kennedy had just been elected President of the United States. Ion didn’t marry until 1969 at age 34, when he began to make his own family – two daughters and a son.)) In early 1961 my father was in a bar with his best friend Petrica and a few others complaining about high tax rates and the collectivization of farms. They came up with a plan to hijack an internal flight from Arad, in the west of Romania, and to fly it out of the country.
Petrica was a retired air force officer who in civilian life repaired radios like my dad. They had no idea that one of their friends was a Securitate informer.
All were captured before they had a chance to take control of the plane and condemned to eight years of hard labor “for preparatory actions leading to fraudulent crossing of the border” (leaving the country without permission was illegal) and “plotting against public order”.
My father, in his 20s, found himself in terrible prisons at Jilava and Deva and at the Great Island of Braila labor camp, where he met some of the political dissidents who were systematically tortured there.
In July 1964, my father and his friends were liberated in a general amnesty, but the Securitate followed his every move, looking for any reason to discredit him and throw him back in prison. Suffocated and intimidated, in February 1965 dad bought a compass, binoculars, antibiotics, a few vials of caffeine, some cans of sardines, and a roll of salami. He and Petrica made a heart-stopping escape from Romania in a blizzard. Dodging police and hiding in haystacks, they made it all the way to the Iron Curtain at the Bulgarian-Turkish border.
On 2 March 1965 at 07:30 in the morning, starved, weak and frozen, they rolled down a hill, jumped a 2m-high barbed-wire fence and nearly crossed into Turkey. The patrol squad showered them with bullets in no-man’s land, just 400m from freedom, and sent them back to Romania. My father was sentenced to 11 years at the harshest prison of all, Aiud, for “fraudulent crossing of the border, punishable with art. 267 of the penal code”.
Part of the sentence was a five-month period of torture by solitary confinement and starvation while wearing 45kg ((100 lbs)) of chains day and night, in the “special” wing of the prison at Alba Iulia. The prison records say he was transferred to Alba Iulia “for judicial affairs” which is true in a sense: my father was tortured there in order to “admit” his supposed role as an “accomplice” in the theft of money that had “disappeared” from his radio repair shop after he ran away to Bulgaria. My father’s own account of this period is hair-raising: he was fed once every two days, and allowed to wash three times in the entire period he was held there.
But, as dad puts it, there was an angel looking after him – he was transferred back to Aiud and freed in January 1969 as a result of changes to the penal code.
Dad now attempted to live a normal life. He married and had children. Things didn’t seem so bad on the surface. We had summer holidays on the Black Sea and built a lovely house in our village, Draganesti, near Galati, in eastern Romania.
But behind the scenes the Securitate pushed him to breaking point, following and spying on him. My mother, Mioara, was denied a career in teaching because she married a “political agitator” and was therefore likely to “pollute the minds of the younger generation”. Told to choose between job and husband, she opted for the marriage, and they both began working in a grocer’s shop. Before long, mum was running the shop, and as dad had been banned from keeping the books at his TV/radio repair workshop, she did that too. Dad worked on repairs when he wasn’t stacking shelves. My parents put up with their lot, and worked hard.
By 1981 ((when President Reagan became President of the United States)), however, there were not many groceries to sell. Hungry factory workers yelled at them: “What am I going to put in my bag for lunch?” Evening bread queues often ended in fist fights. When the doors closed for the day, my father’s angry outbursts at the back of the shop mingled with blasts of Radio Free Europe. One day he told my mother: “I don’t want to spend my life just breathing air, and doing nothing.”
They bought two typewriters, one of which they did not register with the police, and began making anti-communist flyers protesting against shortages and human rights abuses. They spent the nights typing and driving all over the country to put them in people’s letterboxes, while my sister and I slept. The police kept coming to the house to check the prints of the legal typewriter, and to see whether they matched with the letters.
On 10 March 1983, about a month after my father and I visited the hospital with a bouquet of carnations to see my new-born brother, Catalin, my father took to the streets of Bucharest. On top of our red Dacia car, he mounted placards demanding human rights, and denouncing Ceausescu as a torturer who should be put on trial. Then he drove through the city center, throwing leaflets from the window and blowing a whistle to attract attention.
He had said nothing to my mother. She was in the hospital with Catalin, who was close to dying from an untreated lung infection. My younger sister Loredana was away at gymnastics school and I was at home, aged 12, with my grandmother. This marked the beginning of hell for us.
Dad’s protest landed him back in Aiud, condemned to 10 years of hard labor for “propaganda against the socialist regime”, punishable under art. 166 line 2 of the penal code. My mother, my sister, my brother and I were placed under close surveillance.
We became accustomed to travelling across the country for a yearly prison visit, letters sent but not always received, food packages returned to us because “the prisoner did not behave appropriately”. Rotten fried chicken, softened apples and ulcer medication were sent back in the battered cardboard boxes in which we had placed them months before, hoping he’d receive them.
The Securitate had their own keys to our house and ordered us not to pull the curtains in the kitchen to make it easier for them to observe us. We later learned that my father had accumulated the codenames Andronic, Butnaru, Cazul Cocor, and Barbu, while Mum was codenamed Bela and Barbu. A school friend codenamed Cornelia was in charge of keeping a record of my feelings about dad for the Securitate.
In 1985 mum and dad were forced to divorce. By 1987 I had become accustomed to children at school, and one of the teachers, referring to me and my sister as “the criminal’s daughters”.
On his birthday in 1988, Ceausescu proclaimed a general amnesty. My mother quipped that history would remember him for his compassion – having no idea that we would find her words transcribed 30 years later in government archives.
When my father walked home in the night on 5 February 1988, secret microphones in the house “registered an atmosphere of joy coming from the children”. My father “visited each room”, “asked for his shaver” and looked “for his radio”. He cradled Catalin in his arms, they noted. The transcripts of that first night say that “the family went to sleep at 03:45 in the morning. The Obj. [my father] complained of a pain in his heart.”
None of us remember all of these details, they are a gift from the record-keeping Securitate, but I recall the smell of prison on dad’s clothes.
A couple of months after dad’s return from prison, the secret police files note:
“At 01:32 in the morning, we could hear someone trying the door to the room equipped with listening devices. The door doesn’t open. We hear the footsteps of someone walking away and the insistent barking of the dog as to a person who is a stranger to the house.”
It is a transcript of the Securitate registering itself in the act of trying to come into the house to change the microphones. I read this file last August for the first time. It made me understand that when we heard noises in those years in Romania we weren’t really crazy as we thought.
After receiving a series of invitations from mysterious men to meet them in town, death threats on the phone in the middle of the night, and even a call from a woman offering sex to dad, we decided to seek political asylum in the US. It was my turn to make a heart-stopping journey to the American Embassy with my father’s prison papers to give testimony on behalf of the family.
I managed to get into the Consulate, but I was promptly arrested on the way out and interrogated for 45 minutes. I kept repeating what I was told to say: “We are under American protection, you can’t do anything to me.” They let me go and told me to never go back there again.
The Securitate records show how “concerned” they were about us and what might happen, as immigrants, to our sense of Romanian identity. They tried to dissuade my mother from going to the US – they told her that life in the West was a form of slavery to rich, lazy capitalists.
We waited 11 months for our passports, under house arrest. One record says that “after we have used every method to discourage the obj. [this time Mum] from leaving, we decided to expel her from the Communist Party”. It was, even according to the Securitate’s own file, a humiliation ceremony, where her friends were forced to hurl insults at her.
“Your girls will become prostitutes,” the passport clerk yelled at my parents. “Our hand is long,” they said, turning to my father, threatening us with death if we spoke about what had been done to us once in America. I now read my mother’s declaration in the files “not to damage the image of our socialist regime by actions or words”, and wonder how she must have felt to leave the country in her 40s with three children, a husband who had returned from the heart of evil, and no idea where we were going.
As we made our way to Michigan at the end of 1989, each carrying one suitcase in which we packed a lifetime, the Berlin Wall tumbled down behind us. The bloody Romanian Revolution followed at Christmas time ((live, on global TV)).
We arrived as political refugees in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on 17 November 1989, travelling via Rome, and landing at night, in a snowstorm, not speaking a word of English.
In a refugee center in Rome we had been taught that Americans, when they ask “How are you?” don’t really expect an answer; that they all have checkbooks; that they value democracy and free speech; and that all immigrants gain 8kg in the first year in the West because, well, there is just a lot of food to eat and most of it is rather different from our homemade soups. We couldn’t have been more thrilled with all of that.
We became eager to “assimilate” into Western life.
My sister and I would often ask the people in Grand Rapids we knew best: “Do I look American yet?”
At the same time we saw on a donated television how the Ceausescus were executed. My father said: “This is all wrong; now the world will never find out from him about his abuses.” My mother cried: “They are just two old people, they should not have been killed.” And all of us danced in the living room with joy that a revolution was happening in Romania.
I wondered if my father’s protest might have played some role in bringing it about. My father wanted to return. We said firmly: “We are staying here, and you are not abandoning us yet again.”
Twenty years have passed. We cleaned nursing homes, churches, worked at Burger King, made golf clubs, Mum worked in a children’s clothing factory, and we went to school. My father collected all of the discarded televisions we found, fixed them, and we had a TV in each room: “Such a waste,” he’d say.
We became American citizens. My sister and I married. She and her husband bought a house in the suburbs. We became “Romanians by birth”.
In 1999 Romania opened the archives of the secret police to people who had been subjected to surveillance during the communist years. My father said: “I know who I am. I don’t need to know what the Securitate said about me.” But I disagreed and managed to find our records in 2010.
Now, it was one thing to experience the Securitate following and threatening us. But it is another thing to read the complete record of our daily lives, including the traps neatly laid out for us, to lure us into committing an offence, which we escaped simply by instinct or luck.
So, when my mother was in the hospital with my brother, the Securitate placed next to her a “patient” who also had a “sick child”. Nurses and doctors helped to stage it all. The woman who became Mum’s “friend” had a question scripted for her to help her spark the conversation. She produced reports on what mum said about my father and his dissidence.
Another example is a “legend” (a technical term used by the Securitate) by which an “Amnesty International employee” came to ask mum about my father and whether we were persecuted because of him. The officer was trained to have a German accent, and to look nervous. He invited her to a hotel in town to talk “out of the reach of the microphones”.
This was a trap to throw my mother in prison for speaking with foreigners about my father. Again, we now have the official record against which we can test our own memory of that day when the man came to the house. After he left, my mother said: “No one is this worried about us, I don’t trust this stranger.” It was a lack of trust that saved her.
There are records of dreams we recounted to each other in the mornings. The transcriber knew us so well; he or she was able to read and duly note our moods. Some even took sides in family arguments, noting on the margins of the transcripts who they thought was right. It’s like having had a one-sided relationship with these invisible broadcasters of our tormented souls.
Needless to say, the documents have been sifted through; parts have been blotted out in black ink, pages are missing. What I have is what was given to me as publishable.
But we now have every letter that my father wrote to us from prison and we wrote to him. Half of the letters are direct transcripts — they were copied by the censors – while half are paraphrases of what we wrote. There are not always quotation marks to indicate which of the words are ours, which are theirs. It is nearly impossible to detangle the self from the words of the Securitate. Some of the letters were not forwarded to us, so I read them for the first time last summer.
The question of what my father was thinking of when he drove away to Bucharest on 10 March 1983 has lost its painful intensity for us over the years. Yet in the files I see our daily recitation of blame and anger at the time.
That question would have remained unanswered if it hadn’t been for a trip to Romania that we took as a family in October 2013. My father was by then 78, my mother 67, so it was a good time to make the journey back.
Walking into my father’s prisons, Jilava and Aiud, the cells completely submerged in darkness and bone-chilling dampness, reading the records of his admission to the prison infirmary with fractured ribs and “bruises from hammer applied to fingers”, I understood what I could not have understood before.
When he left home, the car stuffed with placards and leaflets, my father knew what he was returning to. Yet he had no choice. For him the family was his country and the country was his family. If he did not fight for everyone else, he could not have hoped to put food on our own table. Or a shred of dignity in our lives. He left us out of desperation and moral conviction.
He protected us by saying nothing to us. But you can only understand this by going into the prison rooms where he suffered. And by standing next to him while he shouts that he has no memory of receiving beatings that fractured his ribs, even though you face him, with the radiography record trembling in your hands. This is the side of heroism no one likes to talk about, not even him. But it is the face of heroism that now makes me proud.
++++ (end of Carmen’s article) ++++
Dr. Carmen Bugan, who as a young girl arrived in America speaking no English, has a doctorate in English literature from Balliol College, Oxford, and has taught Creative Writing at the Poetry School in London and Oxford University, and literature at Oxford and University of Fribourg, Switzerland. She now lives with her two children on the border between France and Switzerland, where her husband works at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. “I think I belong on the border. I feel safer psychologically if I have two countries, two places to go,” she says.
In 2014 I sent her article to a friend, who observed: “What strikes me is that this father would so irresponsibly indulge his sabre-rattling political liberation whims as to create a hellish life for his wife & whole family. Not at all admirable. His indulgences created social, economic, health, & political problems for the whole family. Sorry, I think he was selfish & indulgent, rather than heroic, when the resultant cost to his family was so great.”
So I replied:
What would you have done in his place? Would you simply sit there and stew in your own bodily fluids from birth through an ignominious death in the garbage dumb, all while filling volumes of secret police files with your surreptitiously obtained gossip about your closest friends and neighbors and co-workers? What a noble life for a man. I’m sure his children would greatly admire and seek to emulate such a sterling human, a true larger-than-life hero up there on the Big Screen.
Everyone is ALWAYS able to come up with excuses, rationalizations, for doing nothing, for remaining silent, hiding in the herd – and then have their sons grow up justifiably hating them for their cowardice. One of the biggest problems in America today is “men” who are somehow even able to rationalize their failure to stand up for their own sons in mentally crippling public schools.
Almost every Hollywood thriller made is about brave average people risking everything to overcome great imposed adversity in valiant efforts to try to ensure a better future for their children than is possible under a fascist state. Of course, it’s mostly nonsense; we now automatically expect “someone else” to do all the hard stuff. But does the audience condemn the hero for risking so much? No, not even when they know the effort will fail. That is the “indomitable spirit of man”, and especially of Americans who still look at their flag and proudly sing about “the land of the free and home of the brave” with great emotion, even while carefully avoiding anything resembling bravery themselves, even while systematically relinquishing their own freedoms in the interest of “safety and security”. It’s very easy to criticize from the very safe sidelines, while doing nothing except coasting on the greatness of ancestors.
This story is told by the man’s daughter. Much of it is about things of which she had lived most of her life until now in ignorance. (Ion purposefully kept his daughters in the dark.) All she has are isolated vague childhood memories and a huge heavily redacted old bureaucratic file on her family, a file with whole big pieces missing. And just look at the size of that file – 18 volumes and nearly 1,500 pages. Was her father leader of a potent guerrilla group seeking to overthrow the state through violent terrorist action? No, he was just an average guy working in a small shop. What was his crime? He just wanted to leave, to seek his future elsewhere. And if he could not leave, then he wanted to remind his fellow citizens of basic things the state was not affording its people. These are major crimes worthy of such a massive file? Many years later, as the daughter told her story, she was not able to fill in big blank spaces, peer inside her aging father’s mind, nail down any of the ‘whys’ of the past. Most of this man’s fate was set in stone long before he married and had children, but I tend to think that the birth of his son induced both him and his wife to make one more stab at it, knowing far better than most what fate very well could await him. Besides, what future could the current status quo offer his son?
Perhaps every man can’t be Spartacus, but, if he’s a man, he should at least so aspire. Otherwise he’s just another useless whining women, demanding that “someone else” pay the bills, take the blame, and do the hard stuff for “very special me” – who only wants to return to the “safe and secure” prison womb, and vegetate.
And, in the end, his actions didn’t make any more difference to this family than it would have made to any other family. The same environment affected every family, regardless of their overt or covert political activity. The Ceausescu communist regime was especially ruthless and brutal; torture and murder were routine in its infamous prisons, and yet it was not alone in such approaches to its own citizens. Faulting this particular man is attributing a certain logic where none is warranted, that his behavior resulted in his treatment. But that was not the way things worked. The behavior in his case was simply the convenient pretext. The logic was elsewhere. The objective was to instill fear and paranoia in everyone, and the chief tactic was the randomness of the relentless intimidation. The guy down the street, and his family, could very well have been subjected to the exact same treatment even if he had done nothing at all, if perhaps his six-year-old son said something stupid in school or his wife had skipped a mandatory community meeting. Use a map, throw a dart, pick an address, seize any pretext (even if it must be manufactured) – and they’re off to the races for the next twenty years. It was all purposefully capricious, and it even affected those doing the spying – as others routinely spied on them. In that circumstance, doing something was at least better than doing nothing, better than “living” life as a useless obedient vegetable, and having your son grow up justifiably hating you for your cowardice, for the living hell you bequeathed to him.
Could he have made a difference? Probably not. In 1985 Romania’s Securitate employed some 11,000 agents and had a half-million registered informers for a country with a population of 22 million; it employed one agent or informer for every 43 Romanians, which was large enough to make it all but impossible for dissidents to organize. With no ability to organize, the burden fell on the bravery of individuals acting alone, even knowing such efforts would be mostly futile. So at least Ion Bugan was “the man in the arena” and deserves every bit as much respect as does the man addressed by Teddy Roosevelt – the man “.. who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” (See “A Raid From History”.) He kept the flame burning. He kept alive in his children’s minds the fact that there are better ways to view the world and your place in it, that certain values and freedoms do not originate with man and therefore cannot be withdrawn by man, that their condition in Romania was, inherently, wrong.
About 500,000 Romanians were condemned as political prisoners in the 1950s as the nation’s Communist government sought to crush all dissent, and this practice became routine. From the 1950s right up to the end of the 1980s, thousands of “dissidents” were routinely killed in Romania’s prisons on the orders of the Securitate secret police after repeated beatings from interrogators and inmates. In October 2014, a full quarter of a century after the fall of Soviet communism, the Romanian court system finally took the first step down below the top dogs, to the people who actually did the dirty work, when it charged the man, now 89, who ran the prison in Ramnicu Sarat, northeast of Bucharest, from 1956 to 1963 with causing the deaths of 12 politial prisoners.
In August 2016 Romanian military prosecutors announced that four former communist officials, including the former chief of the feared Securitate secret police, will stand trial for the death of a dissident in prison. Gheorghe Ursu, a construction engineer, poet and diarist, died two months after being arrested in 1985, after allegedly being beaten repeatedly by interrogators and inmates. Ursu’s son Andrei, a Romanian-born US citizen, went on hunger strike in 2014 to protest the lack of investigation into his father’s death, and the case was eventually reopened. Gheorghe had kept a detailed diary. Romania has been slow to prosecute those who allegedly committed abuses under Ceausescu because many officials retained their jobs after the regime collapsed in 1990.
It’s important to recognize that all of those countries under Soviet communist domination had laws protecting human rights, guaranteeing freedoms, ensuring equitable treatments, etc.. But, faced with what they perceived as “external threats”, they allowed their leaders to subvert those laws in the interest of “safety and security”, in the interest of the survival of the state, or, more accurately, the state’s “leaders”, its functionaries and bureaucrats. In the beginning, most of those people embraced what would become their own prison. Each of those countries had their own versions of the “Patriot” Act, but they did not have the absolutely incredible capabilities of the internet, cellphones … or NSA and its acres of super-computers. (See “Intelligence Collection”.)
Carmen Bugan has done us all a favor by telling her story and that of her brave father, in a terrible world that could easily be resurrected tomorrow, right here in America, through ignorance and complacency. The least-heard term in modern American English is “my responsibilities”; it’s ALL about “my rights”.
Just who has the responsibility of ensuring those rights?
(*And, no, I never once had an armed security guard following me around anywhere to protect “very special me” from bad people, but I did from time to time vet, recruit and train brave unarmed interpreters willing to accompany me where I had to go.)
Footnote #1. Stasi Rises From The Dead, Far FAR Stronger
Finland has long been the world’s most “wired” country, and, with a standard of living higher than that of the US, is almost always quite near the front of digital technology. (I view Finland as a sort of mini-US, whose smaller population and more honest reporting makes it easier to study.)
A new Finnish police system is great for “traffic monitoring”, but also for total population monitoring, surveillance and control. And it’s automatic, too, requiring no gray matter between the ears at all. It’ll be perfect for when the state starts using fleets of drones and driverless cars managed by a few brainless bureaucrats from one of their reinforced bunkers at an “undisclosed location”.
The camera in the police car is an “eyes” extension of a computer back at the station; it films a vehicle in very high resolution, zeros in on the license plate, identifies the vehicle, and queries other data bases about it – all automatically and almost instantaneously, no human involvement required. The video and its query becomes the stored record, and the station computer is linked with all other station computers in a national network.
This is what happens when one-dimensional morons are so infatuated with the benefits of whiz-bang technology that they totally ignore the far greater dangers – to everyone. Would-be fascists everywhere are literally salivating. Communist China alone will make billionaires of the company owners in a month – all while our own morons demand that their military go forth and do deadly battle with “enemy threats”. The idiots don’t even realize that the biggest enemy threat out there is us.
Police to implement automatic plate number recognition technology
Helsinki Times, 24 Aug 2014
Police officers who tested a new automatic plate number recognition system say it will make a good tool for traffic monitoring. The system will be implemented in the whole country in a couple of months’ time. The camera system installed in a police car has spotted a high number of vehicles that have not been MOTed ((inspected)), have been reported stolen, or for which the road tax has not been paid. ((And this is just the very beginning of what it can do.))
Since the beginning of June, the Oulu police department has tested the system in four or five police cars, with the pilot phase set to finish in a couple of weeks’ time.
“The system has proved to be an efficient tool and has mainly worked without any hiccups. Police officers who have tested the device have been happy with it,” explains Chief Inspector Marko Törmänen from the Oulu police department. He says that during a typical ten-hour shift of a police patrol, the system records the number plates of around 2,000 vehicles.
During one shift, the system typically records around 100-150 hits, mainly for cars without a valid road tax or MOT. Half of the hits are unfounded while the other half lead to further measures by the police.
One reason for unfounded hits is that the database is only updated once a week, during which time the owner of the vehicle may have taken the car for its annual MOT.
Until now, police patrols have run a check on a vehicle’s number plate mainly in cases when they have had some reason to suspect that not everything is in order ((i.e., probable cause)). To do this, the police officer has had to type in the register number in a computer ((and that, of course, requires FAR too much thought and effort)).
Being automatic, the number plate recognition system has potential to spot a higher number of vehicle offences than a police patrol monitoring traffic without the help of the technology. “However, we don’t have time to attend to all the reported hits,” says Törmänen.
((“But have no fear: the computer will save it all, so we can get around to it whenever we get tired of riding around in our roving surveillance vehicles. And just imagine what other things we’ll be able to determine about you and your activities just by querying the computer – a year or a decade after the fact. Just wait for what nifty uses it has for employers; for private, government and commercial background checkers; for insurance companies; for divorce proceedings; for all the creepy government and police voyeurs out there, too! And finally, there’s the reality of the Ultimate Controlled Society when this system marries the NSA system and its acres of super-computers.” The “file” is no longer a thick dossier full of paper documents in a dusty storeroom; the file is now digital data on a computer, enormously easier to search, analyze, manipulate, cross-reference, retrieve and disseminate, no gray matter between the ears required. Neither the Stasi or the KGB or Romania’s Securitate could ever even imagine such total power over its people. Tell me again just what World War II and the “Cold” War were really all about. Were they just to make sure that WE got there first?))
The number of hits reported by the system strongly depends on where and when it is being used. “If the patrol drives 80–100 kilometres from Oulu to a ((rural)) region where the police cars don’t patrol that regularly, the system records a hit for almost half of the cars on the road,” explains Törmänen.
The cameras also record video of the traffic, a feature that has proven useful, according to Törmänen. “We’ve used the cameras to record traffic at traffic lights. In cases where the driver has denied driving against the red light, we’ve been able to show footage of the situation,” says Törmänen. ((Not just a hazy photo, but hi-def video “footage” – from which facial recognition software will be able to identify the actual driver from license photos also in the computer.))
Törmänen says that the test run of the automatic number plate recognition system has not revealed any flaws that would put a driver’s legal rights at risk ((according to the police. Who woulda thunk?)).
“There have been some individual technical hitches, such as the keyboard getting jammed or recording system going on the blink. But similar problems arise with all technical systems,” Törmänen comments.
The National Police Board is set to approve the number plate recognition system as an official traffic monitoring tool in October if the pilot in Oulu runs smoothly and no problems crop up. “The system has met the expectations. The goal is to have the system in use at the turn of the year everywhere in the country,” says Chief Superintendent Risto Lammi from the National Police Board.
(Lasse Kerkelä -Helsingin Sanomat, Niina Woolley – Helsinki Times © Helsingin Sanomat.)
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