The New Inquiry

Security Culture Is Good

Kade Crockford

Take these precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones from the state

Five easy things you can do right now, and some basic tips:

Start simple. These are bare-minimum security requirements for anyone using modern communications tools.

For more detailed information about how to do all of these things, and which encryption and password manager software you should trust, visit:

Also, keep in mind that deleting tweets and using an "Incognito" browser window won't do shit to stop you from being monitored. The Internet is forever.

If you're editing documents as a group and don't want to use Google docs, try a Riseup pad. Sandstorm is another alternative that has some cool features.

Finally, watch out for common social engineering tricks. If someone sends you an email that looks weird, don't click on the link or attachment. If your friend sends you a link that looks weird, call or text them to make sure they actually sent it. The most common way people get owned online is through social engineering. It can be tricky to avoid if you've got a persistent and powerful adversary like the NSA, but common sense and paying careful attention to what you click will protect most people most of the time.

Encryption: Use it, but be aware of its limitations.

You probably know by now that end-to-end encryption is our best defense against dragnet government and corporate surveillance. "Use Signal. Use Tor" is a joke at this point in the security community. It has become a joke because it's a cliché; it's a cliché because it's the best advice for people looking to easily protect themselves online. But neither of these tools is foolproof, meaning they won't necessarily stop the cops or FBI from spying on you. Nonetheless, you should use them religiously--if you can.

Signal is a free, open-source app that encrypts voice-over-IP calls and text messages. It works well and it's easy to use, as long as your communication partner also has the app installed. Signal is great because it doesn't only protect the content of your communications--it also protects associational metadata. That means if cops send a warrant or court order to Whisper Systems (the company that runs Signal) asking for information about who you've been calling and texting through their app, they won't get anything in return. The company doesn't create or keep these records. Since Signal allows group chats, it can work as a replacement for email (which is notoriously insecure) if you need to keep information private. This is important for organizers and you should make use of this feature.

Tor is a browser that protects your Internet activity from the spying eyes of Comcast, Time Warner, and the FBI alike. Using Tor won't encrypt the content of your Gmail, or keep Facebook from tracking your thoughts and associations. But it will make it more difficult for companies and governments to track everything you do online.

The trick with these two security tools is that they only work if you use them, and they have limitations. Primary among those limitations is the threat of hacking. If someone installs malware on your device (on either your phone or your computer), no amount of encryption is going to stop them from reading everything on it. Encryption protects data in transit and at rest, not on your (unlocked or hacked) machine. In other words: if someone has your password, or installs malware on your device, Signal and Tor are helpless to stop them from owning your digital life.

Furthermore, Signal only works if you have a data connection or wifi, making it a crappy option for people who rely on SMS and phone calls to communicate. It also doesn't run on Windows phones. Despite these limitations, it's our best option for easy-to-use, secure, free communications technology--that is, besides whispering in the woods. Use it to tell your weed dealer how much dank you want, to tell your comrades where to meet up, and to tell your mom you love her. Use it for everything.

Threat modeling: Do it.

The concept of threat modeling is relatively simple: perform an analysis of your unique situation to protect yourself from harm. Ask and answer the following questions:

Let's consider a possible scenario:

You're an organizer in New York City. You're planning a direct action where you and some comrades will lock down at a bank in Brooklyn. You want to keep the existence of the direct action and the identities of the people organizing it secret from the NYPD and the bank's security team.

The NYPD--your adversary--has advanced surveillance capabilities. You don't know much about the bank's security team, but you do some research and find out they've got security officials working alongside the NYPD at the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative. Given the department's penchant for obsessive secrecy and its love of surveillance, it's probably got a lot of toys and powers that you don't know about. It's not quite the NSA, but for a police department it's as close as they come. The NYPD has cameras all over the city, and access to the MTA's surveillance feeds. The department has cellphone-tracking stingrays, perfect for spy cops who don't want to bother with courts, warrants, or the limited outside oversight they provide. NYC's police also have an obsession with crushing dissent, and an enormous budget with which to do it. They might also use undercover informants or police operatives in leftist movements in the city, but you're not totally sure.

In order to protect yourself and your crew in this hostile environment, you may want to take the following approach:

Now, this "locking down in a Brooklyn bank" activist scenario is very different from another one folks need to grapple with: you're a Muslim dad in Wisconsin, and you just want to go about your life without worrying that the FBI will force you to become an informant or try to entrap your teenager into an "ISIS plot." The next section provides the most important information for a person dealing with this type of threat.

What to do if the FBI comes for you:

Over the decades, the FBI has developed a very efficient means of screwing people over: getting them to talk to its agents. If FBI officials contact you at home or at your office, asking to have a chat, take their business card and inform them that your lawyer will be in touch. Politely decline any other conversation with the agents. This is extremely important. You should never talk to the FBI without your lawyer present, even if you think you have "nothing to hide" or you want to help them. You must help yourself first. And the only way to do that is to keep your mouth shut.

When the FBI interviews someone, they send two agents: one person asks questions, and the other takes notes. The stenographer then goes back to the office and types up the notes into an official document known as Form 302. This is the government's official record of the interview, and it can and likely will be used against the interview subject. If an FBI official writes on the 302 that you said you were at a basketball game Sunday morning at 11, and then you later tell a grand jury that you were at the basketball game at 10, you can be charged with lying to a federal agent. A conviction for lying to a federal agent will land you in federal prison for years. This is how the FBI puts people in a vice, and gets them to inform. The truth doesn't matter; the only thing that matters is what's written on that Form 302.

This is why it's absolutely critical that you do not speak to the FBI under any circumstances without your lawyer present. In many (if not most) cases, when your lawyer follows up with agents to schedule the interview, the agents will drop it. It's more difficult for them to manipulate people who know their rights. Don't be fooled by their nice smiles or their vague threats--"We can do this the hard way, or we can do it the easy way now..." or "This could be bad for you if you don't talk. It makes it seem like you've got something to hide."

If you're reading this and you're worried that perhaps an elder or someone else in your family or community doesn't know not to trust the FBI, read up about how the FBI does this to people, and educate them. (Go to and search for "FBI manipulation" for some stories; show them the films The Newburgh Sting and (T)ERROR.) People want to help, they don't want to be seen as obstructing justice, and they want to believe the government will protect them. But the unfortunate reality is that the FBI cannot be trusted and justice isn't usually what they seek--especially when it comes to Muslims and dissidents.

Finally, beware of people who are new to the community and offer money or power to the disenfranchised, destitute, or intellectually disabled. The FBI has more informants on its payroll today than it did at the height of the COINTELPRO era, and they are hard at work every day trying to convince misguided or lost young people to get involved in illegal activity, sometimes for promises of money, other times for promises of heavenly rewards. Study the way the FBI has manipulated people using informants, and then educate your community. Like a predator attacking a herd of deer, the FBI goes after the weakest people in communities--those who for whatever reason cannot defend themselves. Keep that in mind and do whatever you can to protect those people.

Know your rights. And flex them!

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. If you want legal advice, call a lawyer.

Knowing your rights can mean the difference between you getting locked up and you walking away from the cops to go home. You've got to know your rights in order to flex them. Here are some important ones:

How serious is all of this? It's serious as fuck, actually.


Resist the urge to take lightly the advice I've dished out above. It might seem like a lot of these measures are evidence of unjustifiable paranoia, but with organizing as with sex, safety comes first. And just like contraception can't stop 100% of pregnancies, there's no way to eradicate the possibility that you'll get bagged. That doesn't mean you shouldn't wear a condom, or take care to protect yourself and your comrades from state repression. It would be foolish not to.

In Obama's America, Black Lives Matter organizer Jasmine Richards was convicted of felony lynching for de-arresting a comrade at a demonstration. Richards faces four years in prison. This was in California, not Mississippi. Cops across the country--in addition to the FBI and DHS--have used military style tactics and surveillance equipment to undermine opposition to the carceral/police state. The FBI has spent the past 15 years treating Muslims like the new communists--an "enemy within." Obama deported more undocumented people than any prior president in U.S. history. Meanwhile, the state's centuries-old war on Black America rages on. In Trump's America, do you think the state's repressive apparatus is going to stop engaging in this behavior, or ramp it up?

No matter who you are or what you look like, you must take responsibility for protecting yourself and your community from state harm. This isn't a game. People's lives and freedom are on the line. The ability of our movements to push back against the rising tide of fascism will depend on our ability to organize coherent resistance. Keep yourself and your comrades safe. And good luck out there.