If An Agent Knocks is a guidebook written by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Although they’re a left-leaning advocacy group, they’re not the sort likely to make you run away screaming as if Cthulhu is trying to eat your mind. Actually, some of their causes may be of interest. The intended audience is those who might be targeted by politically-motivated investigations and harassment under color of law. I’ll go over the basics, and add my extensive commentary as usual.
It’s an important matter, these days especially. There have been too many politically-charged high-profile cases already, and it’s important to stay out of the headlines. In the illegitimate Bidet administration, the gun-toting bureaucrats aren’t likely to observe any fine scruples about principled opposition. The more that anarcho-tyranny and banana republic standards are accepted, the worse it will get. Note well, I have no problem with the full force of the law coming down on actual crooks, within the constraints of due process. However, the criminalization of dissent is a disturbing trend, and the common use of double standards already crosses this line.
Let’s make something clear upfront. Law enforcement agents — federal or otherwise — who do catch crooks are performing a vital service to the community. However, those who act like Orwellian Thought Police are enemies of liberty. Although it’s the job of police forces to be the defenders of law and order, the problem is that this isn’t always so. For example, most local cops have their hearts in the right place, but some of the officials they answer to might have other priorities. We get it; they’re just following orders.
If An Agent Knocks is an old classic. The CCR’s introductory page says that the original release was in 1989. However, an earlier document (perhaps the 1989 release itself) said the first edition came out in March 1985. The earlier preface begins:
People opposing U.S. policies in Central America, giving sanctuary to refugees from Guatemala and El Salvador, struggling for Black liberation, and against nuclear weapons, are today more than ever likely to receive visits from FBI agents or other federal investigators. Increasingly, agents are also visiting the [families], friends, and employers of these activists.
Try not to groan too much; it’ll spoil the show. Back in the mid-1980s, dirty tactics indeed were being conducted by federal law enforcement agents (which I’ll abbreviate hereinafter as FLEAs) against groups critical of geopolitical containment polities in Central America. According to this account, apparently, some other types of activists got FLEA-bitten too.
The CCR’s position back then was understandable. I’m certainly not a fan of Communism, but there still wasn’t much to love about the crooks running El Salvador. Sooner or later, a government that exploits the public or acts hostile toward it will encounter resistance or even revolutionary ferment, and that’s entirely their fault. Taking sides in that only made the USA look bad. Our foreign policy maneuvers in Central America, largely funded by CIA dope trafficking, made for one hot mess anyway.
More importantly, in a free country, there’s certainly nothing wrong with open debate in general. I’m a free speech absolutist, and it’s disappointing that swarms of FLEAs went after nonviolent dissenters. That was an illegitimate effort to stifle public discussion. This was still America back then, not the Empire of Nothing, and the government should’ve had higher standards.
The updated version
Fortunately, the CCR has kept up to date and released a 2020 version of If An Agent Knocks, downloadable in multiple formats. The timing is quite fitting given the New World Order poz-fest unleashed upon society last year. It begins with a colorful illustration including an intersectionally diverse cast of activists, the top three with faraway Che Guevara gazes. Below, the leader type with the megaphone is surprisingly similar to A. Wyatt Mann’s “Ye Happy Merchant” image.
The current version mentions “progressive activist communities across the country” as the major audience. Surely their concept of progress is much different from ours. Still, the booklet might as well be for us too. These days, Communism is good — at least according to “enlightened” opinion — and the FLEAs imagine that we’re the bad guys, bless their hearts.
This is mainly a civics monograph. High tech security is beyond its scope, but it does recommend documents from the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the Vice Motherboard Guide to Avoiding State Surveillance. Those are worth a look too. Lots of well-intentioned people are likely to make atrocious rookie mistakes because of inexperience in OPSEC, like bringing cell phones to sensitive gatherings.
Other than that, the introduction advises contacting an attorney if the FLEAs come knocking, and to get with the National Lawyers Guild if you need one. It further states that FLEAs aren’t always there to pursue an active case, and might just be scoping out a targeted group. I’ll add that they need to have probable cause before they do anything like that, but some of them seem to believe the rules don’t apply to them, so fishing expeditions are entirely possible. Chances are that they’re not going to tell you the real reason why they’re on your doorstep bothering you.
Agents often use their presence simply as an intimidation tactic, to scare people — whether they are involved in organizing or not–from participating in movements for social change.
Indeed; that’s been going on for a long time. They were doing that to noninterventionist groups before the Second World War.
However, any encounter with a federal agent should be taken seriously. Federal agents have used everything from door-knocks to infiltration to social media surveillance as a way to “map” and target certain communities, organizations or people they deem “criminal” or “suspicious.”
Lately, the FLEAs aren’t biting anti-nuke peaceniks too much, or people saying that El Salvador’s kleptocrats suck. However, the document cites scoping-out activity against other causes. This includes the Religion of Peace in NY and NJ after 9/11, pro-Palestinian groups, animal rights advocates, and black activists after three recent racial powder keg events (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and George Floyd). Finally, the guide recommends not engaging the FLEAs at all.
Well, that one’s a surprise; I never noticed much investigation of the recent giga-riots. Last year, when blacks and SJWs were looting and torching cities for three months, the local authorities were left to deal with it themselves (other than police departments that literally got on their knees or otherwise did nothing at all). Despite clear evidence of centralized coordination and outside agitators igniting massive race riots, which legitimately would make these a federal matter, I never noticed FLEAs lifting a finger to stop the terror and violence. With all the domestic spying and police state infrastructure, catching the ringleaders would be easy, if that were the actual purpose for it. While America burned down, instead of doing their jobs, the chief bureaucrats tried to fool the public into believing that “white supremacists” are the real problem. The priorities of these mentally challenged munchkins couldn’t be clearer.
Rule number one is “Don’t talk to agents!” (I’ll add that it’s rule number one for a reason. Note well, these matters apply to encounters with local police too.) The booklet reminds the reader of the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate oneself. It explains:
This is easier to say than to do. Agents are trained investigators: they have learned the power of persuasion and the ability to make a person feel scared, guilty or impolite for refusing their requests for information.
- An agent may suggest that any unwillingness to speak with them means you must have something to hide
- They may suggest they only want you to answer a few questions and then they will leave you alone
- The agent may threaten to get a warrant
The document continues:
Even if you tell the whole truth, if the agent doesn’t believe you, they can threaten to charge you with lying to a federal officer — which is a real crime.
This is a good reason not to play stupid, or to try to feed them disinformation after they’ve identified themselves as FLEAs. The alternative, of course, is to keep your mouth shut. Hopefully, a pattern is starting to emerge here. . .
You can clam up at any time, but obviously sooner is better. The booklet recommends the following one-liners to make it clear you’re going to remain silent:
- “I’m not talking to you.”
- “I’d like to talk to my lawyer before I say anything to you.”
- “I have nothing to say to you. My lawyer will contact you.”
The same goes for phone conversations. Further, it warns:
Agents will often say that you are not part of any investigation. This may not be the truth.
Other than that, the rest of this section discusses implications for non-citizens. Finally, there are helpful tips for transsexuals who have an ID that still lists their biological sex, a footnote that curiously didn’t appear in the 1980s version. Yeah, I can see how such a situation would be totally embarrassing.
The next of the best practices is to document the situation. In particular:
- If possible, get the agent’s name, telephone number and agency. This should be on their business card, or they should be willing to provide this information
- As soon as the agent leaves or hangs up, try to write down as many details about the interaction as you can
- Take photos of anything you think might be significant, including damage to property if the agent entered your home or office, or conducted a search
Other items to document:
- their physical description
- the questions asked and comments made during the interaction
- any names of people they asked you about, the date, time and location of the encounter
- the contact information of any witnesses to the interaction
It also states that you can record the interaction, but tell them what you’re doing, and also stand back so it can’t be construed as interfering with them.
I’ll further add that you should assume they’re recording you. (This isn’t such a bad thing, as this may somewhat reduce the likelihood of creative interpretations on their part.) This obviously applies to the interrogation room. If one of them turns off the tape recorder and invites you to chat “off the record,” there’s another tape still rolling for the hidden microphone.
The third recommendation is to contact a lawyer. I concur; they know what goes and what doesn’t, and can guide you through the maze of the legal system if you get caught in its gears. There are different legal specialties, of course:
We highly recommend talking to lawyers with experience working with social movements, and who have experience litigating against the government, such as public defenders and civil rights attorneys.
It also indicates that a lawyer’s advice may be useful to help warn others and to generate publicity. Of course, that’ll only go so far for us, because no MSM reporters who want to keep their jobs will try to give us even impartial coverage. Besides, don’t feed the bears!
Interactions with agents are intimidating and stigmatizing, and often their very purpose is to silence. Thus, exposure, organizing and public pressure can counter that silencing, and limit intimidation and fishing expeditions.
It further describes some implications if you fail to keep your mouth shut. Remember that they can lie to you, but it’s a felony if you lie to them! It discusses a common FLEA tactic, which is to do some research on a target, then (typically in a neutral setting that doesn’t seem like an interrogation) ask the target several questions that they already know. If they get an incorrect or inconsistent answer, which might simply be the result of nervousness, then they can play the “gotcha” game. If they succeed in that, they might even manipulate a target to rat out friends.
For example, an agent might ask if you know a person (whom they know that you know) or might ask if you were at an event (at which they know you were in attendance). If you instinctively say “No,” that is a federal felony punishable with five to eight years in prison.
The most daunting aspect of this investigative tactic is that many people will instinctively answer no to a question because they are scared or nervous. This tactic is used extensively by federal agents in all types of investigations and has been used to target and turn activists into informants against their former associates.
The one-sided law against lying might also apply to state and local police, not just FLEAs. This is why you keep your mouth shut; get it? Being too talkative also can affect other people, even if you only divulge what seem to be inconsequential details. The booklet advises writing down everything you recall about an interrogation or other contact.
The final best practice is “Tell your people!” It’s the sort of thing they tend to call a teaching moment. Giving your associates a heads-up will help protect them too.
If federal agents have tried to contact you, it’s likely that they’re going to keep probing your people. Surveillance of communities thrives on us remaining silent, so do your part to break the silence! Consider letting your community know that you’ve been contacted; there is no reason to be ashamed.
I have some further observations. If you or your circle of friends has been suffering from a FLEA infestation, greater vigilance will be necessary. By then, it’s possible they already got to other people, turning them dirty. Proceed with your normal political work, but do so very carefully. However, if you don’t proceed at all, that’s exactly what they want.
I’ll add several observations that aren’t in the booklet. Consider it to be non-exhaustive. For beginners, when you hear the words “anything you say can and will be used against you,” that’s your cue to shut up. Even if they haven’t said that yet, shut your big yap anyway.
Officer Friendly isn’t there “just to clear some things up.” His only goal is getting information to build a case, probably against you or maybe one of your friends. Trying to talk your way out of something merely gives them more potential information with which to hang you; so keep your mouth shut. He’s not there to decide whether or not you’re guilty; that’s what happens in a courtroom. Even then, it’s better to shut up to help prevent things from getting that far.
If it goes to court, you’ll be a politically incorrect defendant, and these things have a way of becoming high-profile cases. Imagine the judge’s jaded gaze of disapproval. Then Officer Friendly takes the witness stand, rephrasing very creatively whatever it was you blabbed. The prosecutor puts the worst possible spin on it, hoping to gain a promotion by taking your head for a trophy in a big case like this. Not only could they win the Oscars with the dog and pony show, but they’re also perceived as defenders of law and order. Meanwhile, you’re accused of being a subversive radical, and you’re looking none too photogenic in a jail uniform. Who are the nice soccer moms and graying Boomers on the jury going to believe? As for the pretrial publicity and an ongoing media circus, all that’s another story entirely!
Trained interrogators can make use of all sorts of psychological tricks. Overstating someone’s importance (“we know you’re Mr. Big, and we’ll throw the book at you”) is one. Understating importance is another, attempting to pique someone’s ego and pride. Both tactics are geared at making suspects explain their actual role — either “I’m not that important, I only do X” or “I’m not the errand boy; I actually do X.” Wearing down suspects is another tactic. This may include asking the same questions repeatedly, obviously trying to get you to contradict yourself, but a good lawyer can put a stop to that.
Then there’s the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” trick, where they deceptively will turn two suspects against each other. (“Your friend already swore a statement against you. If you swear a statement against him, we won’t bust you.”) Your friend will be hearing the same lies from them. The only way out of that one is if both of you shut up. I’ll add that you can’t trust any “deal” that isn’t in writing. Even so, why be a rat?
Other than that, no matter how good your arguments are, political discussions to get the interrogators on your side would be a bad move. If any of them let on that they’re on your side, don’t believe it. (That might be a variant of the “good cop / bad cop” tactic.) The increasing tendency to put opinions on trial, rather than actions, is another reason to beware and keep your mouth shut.
Note well, none of my commentary here is to encourage evasion of responsibility for wrongdoing. (That’s not what the Center for Constitutional Rights is after, either.) The sad fact is that law-abiding citizens need to beware too. The greatest danger for them is having their words twisted into an apparent contradiction, which creates the perception of guilt. Interrogations are highly stressful and it’s easy to misspeak unintentionally in such a situation. Moreover, all too many prosecutors tend to have tunnel vision; they’ll ignore exculpatory evidence and other leads if they think they have their target. They also tend to be metrics-driven, and a high conviction rate looks good for their career. I hope nobody needs any of this advice, but forewarned is forearmed.
Visits & searches
Fittingly, this part of If An Agent Knocks begins with a reminder about rights under the Fourth Amendment. For involuntary searches of property aside from certain special cases, authorities need a search warrant signed by a judge. Ask for it and look it over. It will specify where they’re authorized to search, and don’t let them search elsewhere. Other tips which are more fully explained in the booklet include the following:
- Just because an agent has a search warrant doesn’t mean you have to answer any questions.
- Don’t be intimidated by an agent’s threats to get a warrant or subpoena.
- Simply because a piece of paper says “warrant” does not mean it is a valid arrest or search warrant.
Moreover, if they don’t have a warrant, then don’t let them inside. (I’ll add that doing so will mean they’ll start wandering around your place looking for “plain sight” items, checking out your reading material, etc. If that’s your roommate’s bong on the living room table, tough luck for you. If they really have it in for you, they might drop something incriminating and “find” it.) The booklet explains:
Agents may search your house without a warrant if you allow them to, and they are trained to seek your consent to warrantless searches. Be careful of questions that are designed to elicit your consent to search. These questions may be as innocuous as “Do you mind if I come in?” Simply allowing an agent into your home may be construed as consent to search the whole place.
Legally, the best answer to a request to search is “I do not consent to a search.” Say it loudly and proudly so any witnesses can hear.
Then it describes the implications of shared living spaces, useful to know if you have a roommate or are living in sin. After that, it discusses offices and community spaces; which may be useful reading. Trash may be searched without a warrant. Then it details special considerations about searches of cars. Other topics in this section include arrest warrants, ICE ruses, and border crossings.
Infiltration & human surveillance
The topic of human intelligence gathering (HUMINT in the biz) is a big one, of course. It’s a major reason why loose talk even in friendly circles is a very bad idea. The booklet begins:
The use of undercover agents and informants is widespread in investigations by modern law enforcement agencies. The ability to place undercover agents or informants in progressive movements or organizations gives law enforcement a kind of access that is otherwise nearly impossible to obtain.
Yeah, we get it. Then it identifies three types of leaks. Informants are former friendlies who either are bribed or blackmailed into selling out. Cooperating witnesses squeal on their friends, often as a deal to avoid prosecution. Undercover agents are FLEAs who join and typically fabricate a convincing backstory. Leftists are lucky that they only have to worry about sellouts, rats, and FLEAs. Rightists also have to deal with two more categories of pests: Social Justice Warriors and journalists.
The bad news is that FLEAs can do whatever they want. They’re only bound by toothless guidelines which have become looser over the years. If they break these guidelines, there is no exclusionary rule to throw out evidence in court. I’ll further add that the “who watches the watchmen?” problem is a big one in powerful agencies which have little transparency, especially those with top officers loyal to a corrupt political establishment rather than having any sense of being public servants. That’s one reason why FLEA infestations can be such a problem. They’re only supposed to be catching crooks, but there’s more to the agenda.
Then the booklet discusses entrapment. The brief basics are:
Entrapment occurs when an agent or informant plants the idea to commit an offense in the mind of an individual who would not otherwise have been disposed to commit such an offense and then encourages that individual to commit the offense in order to prosecute them. Courts view entrapment very narrowly, and tend to give wide latitude to undercover agents or informants who suggest or encourage illegal activity.
I’ll add that this is the typical “government foils government plot” case, which one could consider almost an assisted false flag event. A provocateur will incite a hothead or unstable type, or sometimes more than one. (MKULTRA made a fine art of rattling cages.) The provocateur will suggest doing something stupid, and might even provide the means to do so. Then the trap is sprung, whether it’s before, during, or after the stupid act. Following the setup, whatever movement the fall guy belonged to — or can be imputed to belong to — will be discredited. Finally, the agency gets its victory lap with a chorus of friendly press coverage about what a great job of stopping terror they do.
The next subject is “What are the Constitutional Limits to an Agent’s Power to Infiltrate?” It’s worth a read in its entirety, but the brief answer is that there aren’t any. There’s also a very important section about how to identify infiltrators. For example:
Law enforcement agencies have historically infiltrated political movements, but they have also engaged in a practice of disseminating false accusations against effective activists.
I’ve wondered how much of the notorious backbiting from our (?) side is the usual jealousy, gossip-mongering, and purity spiraling by armchair dictators, and how much is deliberate sabotage and disinformation by various opposition sources. Either way, don’t do the enemy’s work for them! It seems that anyone on our side who rises to prominence and starts doing something effective will get buckets of “friendly fire” criticism. Sadly, some of it comes from major figures on our side. It’s time to cut that out! One thing I have to say for Leftists is that they do a fairly decent job of settling disagreements outside of public view and standing together where it counts.
The booklet points out some suspicious characteristics which might indicate possible trouble; give item 3 a careful look:
- They may not have a backstory that “makes sense” – including sudden deeply held political or religious beliefs that do not reflect the common trajectory of everyone else in the movement.
- They may quickly volunteer for tasks that provide access to your group’s important meetings and papers, such as financial records, membership lists, minutes and confidential files.
- In some contexts, undercover agents and informants have encouraged or urged the use of violence or illegal tactics and accuse others who resist those tactics as being cowards, or otherwise sow discord that distracts from the movement’s goals.
- An undercover agent or informant may also have no obvious source of income over a period of time or have more money available than their job should pay.
Those are some good tips; beware of “Saul on the road to Damascus” conversions, attempts at accessing information, troublemakers and provocateurs, and those with no visible means of support. I’ll add some of my own signs of potential unsuitability. I don’t mean to encourage purity spiraling, and it should be remembered that few have come through this degenerate age unscathed. Still, we simply have to draw the line somewhere. The wrong types easily can switch sides, or be encouraged to become turncoats. Moreover, we’re about quality over quantity, aren’t we?
- People can change their minds over time, but a history of frequently bouncing from one cause to another is a bad sign. That means immaturity, poor ideological grounding, or a tendency toward “true believer” fanaticism. It’s worse if these conversions always include bitterly denouncing previous interests.
- Significant character defects create obvious vulnerabilities. Furthermore, mental instability always should be a red flag. We need people who are in it for the right reasons. This isn’t the Special Olympics.
When in doubt, you can do some background research. Finally, the booklet recommends documenting such incidents, discussing with others in your group (it often says that intimidation tactics thrive in secrecy), and filing Freedom of Information Act requests.
Court tools used against activists
This brief section discusses subpoenas, which are orders compelling one to testify or furnish evidence. You get to help them do their research to be used against you — cool, huh?
Subpoenas are extremely easy to obtain. They are often filed by a government employee, a court clerk and even private attorneys. A subpoena does not need to be presented to a judge before it is issued. The showing required to issue a subpoena is extremely low; a subpoena may be issued if there is any reasonable possibility that the physical evidence or testimony demanded will provide information relevant to the subject being investigated.
The ease with which subpoenas are issued makes them a powerful tool, but unlike search warrants or other government tools, they can be challenged in court prior to compliance. If you receive a subpoena, you can move to “quash” the subpoena if it is too broad or too burdensome or if it seeks legally protected materials, including materials protected by the First Amendment.
These may also be issued to third parties, such as to get copies of your emails, and you’ll probably never find out about it. As before, it recommends contacting an attorney as soon as the FLEAs start biting.
Grand Juries & Grand Jury Resistance
Proverbially, a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich, and there’s a reason why:
Today, all federal criminal cases are brought to a federal grand jury by a prosecutor. The prosecutor picks the witnesses and asks the questions. The prosecutor drafts the charges and reads them to the grand jury. Witnesses are not allowed to have a lawyer present. There is no judge present. There is no requirement that the grand jury members be instructed on the law at issue. And, unlike in other juries, grand jury members are not screened for bias.
If that weren’t bad enough:
In political cases, federal grand juries have been used to execute fishing expeditions against activists. Prosecutors will bring in activist witnesses and attempt to get them to snitch on other activists with threats of jail time for civil contempt (see more info below) if they refuse to cooperate with the grand jury.
The usual due process rights that apply to trials often do not apply to grand juries. (For one thing, you don’t get a free “public pretender” there.) They take place in secret as well. The subject does get a bit technical. In case you get caught up in something like that, have a look at this section of the booklet in its entirety, and consult an attorney too.
The last parts of If An Agent Knocks are special concerns for noncitizens, a brief conclusion, a glossary of terms, and a taxonomy of FLEAs.
Lastly, surely some are thinking “Why would I need to know this? I’m not doing anything wrong, and certainly nothing illegal. All I want is peaceful change.” You’re completely clean and above board, but don’t let this lead you into complacency.
The System opposes you ideologically on several important points, doesn’t want you to speak out, and would prefer it if you didn’t even exist. Maybe you want a country like the one you grew up in, or you simply believe that the government should represent the interests of the majority. That makes you an enemy of the state, according to those who’ve hijacked your country and are doing everything possible to deconstruct it.
Despite whatever dirty tricks they have up their sleeves, we can’t let them get away with it.
* * *
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Mark Gullick’s Cherub Valley
Jesus, We Hardly Know Ye
Superstitious Minds: The Importance of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
Scott Howard’s The Open Society Playbook
Higher Education: Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game
Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill
“It Sounds Possible that the Revolution Has Started in Wisconsin”
Lothrop Stoddard’s Into the Darkness, Part 2