5,000 Years of History Shows that Mass Spying Is Always Aimed at Crushing Dissent

It wasn’t just the people in the Eastblock countries who suffered and died as a result of their governments spying on them. In fact the American revolution started because King George issued what was called general warrants (now called warrantless searches) so his bullies sheriffs could raid houses from people they didn’t like or who spoke out against him and in fact gave them almost limitless power to interfere with other peoples lives whether they had committed crimes or not.

the Revolutionary War was largely launched to stop the use of general warrants in the colonies. King George gave various excuses of why general warrants were needed for the public good, of course … but such excuses were all hollow.

From Washington’s blog:

Tyrants Have Always Spied On Their Own People

Spying has been around since the dawn of civilization.

Keith Laidler – a PhD anthropologist, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a past member of the Scientific Exploration Society – explains:

Spying and surveillance are at least as old as civilization itself.

University of Tennessee history professor Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius agrees:

Espionage and intelligence have been around since human beings first began organizing themselves into distinct societies, cities, states, nations, and civilizations.

Unfortunately, spying hasn’t been limited to defense against external enemies. As documented below, tyrants have long spied on their own people in order to maintain power and control … and crush dissent.

Laidler notes:

The rise of city states and empires … meant that each needed to know not only the disposition and morale of their enemy, but also the loyalty and general sentiment of their own population.

Benevolent rulers don’t need to spy on their own people like tyrants do. Even the quintessential defender of the status quo for the powers-that-be – Cass Sunstein – writes:

As a general rule, tyrants, far more than democratic rulers, need guns, ammunition, spies, and police officers. Their decrees will rarely be self-implementing. Terror is required.

From Ancient Egypt to Modern America …

The Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security notes:

Espionage is one of the oldest, and most well documented, political and military arts. The rise of the great ancient civilizations, beginning 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, begat institutions and persons devoted to the security and preservation of their ruling regimes.


Early Egyptian pharos [some 5,000 years ago] employed agents of espionage to ferret-out disloyal subject and to locate tribes that could be conquered and enslaved.


The Roman Empire possessed a fondness for the practice of political espionage. Spies engaged in both foreign and domestic political operations, gauging the political climate of the Empire and surrounding lands by eavesdropping in the Forum or in public market spaces. Several ancient accounts, especially those of the A.D. first century, mention the presence of a secret police force, the frumentarii . By the third century, Roman authors noted the pervasiveness and excessive censorship of the secret police forces, likening them to an authoritative force or an occupational army.

The BBC notes:

In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church was more powerful than most governments – and it had a powerful surveillance network to match.

French Bishop Bernard Gui was a noted author and one of the leading architects of the Inquisition in the late 13th and early 14th Centuries. For 15 years, he served as head inquisitor of Toulouse, where he convicted more than 900 individuals of heresy.

A noted author and historian, Gui was best known for the Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Depravity, written in 1323-24, in which he outlined the means for identifying, interrogating and punishing heretics.

The U.S. Supreme Court noted in Stanford v. Texas (1965):

While the Fourth Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] was most immediately the product of contemporary revulsion against a regime of writs of assistance, its roots go far deeper. Its adoption in the Constitution of this new Nation reflected the culmination in England a few years earlier of a struggle against oppression which had endured for centuries. The story of that struggle has been fully chronicled in the pages of this Court’s reports, and it would be a needless exercise in pedantry to review again the detailed history of the use of general warrants as instruments of oppression from the time of the Tudors, through the Star Chamber, the Long Parliament, the Restoration, and beyond.

What is significant to note is that this history is largely a history of conflict between the Crown and the press. It was in enforcing the laws licensing the publication of literature and, later, in prosecutions for seditious libel, that general warrants were systematically used in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. In Tudor England, officers of the Crown were given roving commissions to search where they pleased in order to suppress and destroy the literature of dissent, both Catholic and Puritan. In later years, warrants were sometimes more specific in content, but they typically authorized of all persons connected of the premises of all persons connected with the publication of a particular libel, or the arrest and seizure of all the papers of a named person thought to be connected with a libel.

By “libel”, the court is referring to a critique of the British government which the King or his ministers didn’t like … they would label such criticism “libel” and then seize all of the author’s papers.

The Supreme Court provided interesting historical details in the case of Marcus v. Search Warrant (1961):

The use by government of the power of search and seizure as an adjunct to a system for the suppression of objectionable publications … was a principal instrument for the enforcement of the Tudor licensing system. The Stationers’ Company was incorporated in 1557 to help implement that system, and was empowered

“to make search whenever it shall please them in any place, shop, house, chamber, or building or any printer, binder or bookseller whatever within our kingdom of England or the dominions of the same of or for any books or things printed, or to be printed, and to seize, take hold, burn, or turn to the proper use of the aforesaid community, all and several those books and things which are or shall be printed contrary to the form of any statute, act, or proclamation, made or to be made. . . .

An order of counsel confirmed and expanded the Company’s power in 1566, and the Star Chamber reaffirmed it in 1586 by a decree

“That it shall be lawful for the wardens of the said Company for the time being or any two of the said Company thereto deputed by the said wardens, to make search in all workhouses, shops, warehouses of printers, booksellers, bookbinders, or where they shall have reasonable cause of suspicion, and all books [etc.] . . . contrary to . . . these present ordinances to stay and take to her Majesty’s use. . . . ”

Books thus seized were taken to Stationers’ Hall where they were inspected by ecclesiastical officers, who decided whether they should be burnt. These powers were exercised under the Tudor censorship to suppress both Catholic and Puritan dissenting literature.

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7 thoughts on “5,000 Years of History Shows that Mass Spying Is Always Aimed at Crushing Dissent

  1. Slightly off topic, perhaps, but I have just been watching “V for Vendetta.” What is disturbing is how many of the things portrayed in the movie are actually happening – in a number of so-called “free” countries, and sadly, here in little ol’ NZ. Our rights are slowly but surely being eroded, and few seem to realise it, which is sadder still.

  2. The type of lawless mass surveillance that we see today is a form of madness . Spying in this case is a type of paranoia that crazy despised dictators get when they fear exposure(being seen as they really are) the truth and losing control.
    The irony is that it does cause their downfall, as we see in history the force they use against the people comes back at them.

  3. I remember reading something years ago, that claimed after the collapse of the USSR, the KGB turned to spying on their own countrymen. Seems it’s become rather contagious . . .

  4. A very detailed and impressive historical background on this area. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. There need to be checks and balances. Spying has its place which is why all civilisations have had spies but there need to be strict controls on who can be placed under surveillance and this should ultimately in my view be via warrants issued by judges after considering the case for a warrant in each individual case, and not through blanket mass spying of the population.

    • Much of the problem is that people don’t know that warrants are intangibles which exist independently of the state. The opinion of a judge as to whether or not a warrant exists is usally respected because judges know about the intangibles of law, but the piece of paper is only evidence of a judge’s opinion about a warrant, and a judge may give an unreasonable opinion if prejudice exists.

      • My point is that there should be no blanket warrants and that judges need to be consulted to issue a warrant in each individual case based upon the evidence presented to the judge and that it NOT merely be the judgee’s role to opine on “whether a warrant [already] exists.” This provides a fundamental check on the Government and the executive branch of the day. Whilst not perfect our judges are independent of the executive and legislative branches of government and whilst it is possible for anyone to be unreasonable our Judges are trained to try to be impartial and to judge all evidence presented objectively according to Law. That’s a lot better than having no protections at all. If we were to take the argument that a judge may be unreasonable to its logical conclusion then we wouldn’t trust anyone to be a judge and there woukd be no judges and then we would be back to the law of the jungle, Thomas Hobbes’ ‘State of nature’, which as we know was anything but idyllic or free but which was “nasty, brutish and short.”

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