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Snitch Culture: How Citizens Are Turned into the Eyes and Ears of the State

by Jim Redden, Feral House, 2001, 235 pages

Snitch Culture is a timely examination of how personal and technological snitching is used by the state and by private organizations, in conjunction with informational databases, to obliterate the privacy of Americans. The author, Jim Redden, formerly published PDXS , a quasi-counterculture newspaper in Portland, Oregon.

Judas Iscariot is the most well-known snitch in history. Mr. Redden relates in considerable detail how the state, in general, and its law enforcement network in particular, is dependent on large numbers of people emulating Judas' example of snitching on Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver. They are also duly rewarded with enticements that can include a reduced sentence, dropped charges, informant payments and deflecting their guilt onto others.

The state's addiction to snitches is illustrated by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 1999 to let stand a lower court ruling in U.S. v. Singleton , that federal prosecutors are exempt from the federal statute prohibiting the bribery of witnesses to testify favorably for the government.

The book also relates a few of the many known horror stories of innocent people who have been victimized by snitches unconcerned with the truth. Their ordeals emphasize that everyone is endangered by the state's unrestrained purchase and reliance on questionable information from suspect sources.

Furthermore, when the state is unable to acquire information directly, it has long relied on the intelligence network of snitches working with private organizations, such as the Anti Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Mr. Redden points out that children are taught to snitch on each other and their parents by programs such as DARE; employees are encouraged to snitch on co-workers and their employers; lawyers snitch on clients; acquaintances and spouses snitch on each other, ad nauseum. Snitching is so epidemic in this country that it is becoming culturally ingrained.

Mechanical and electronic snitching has a long history of augmenting personal snitching. In 1928, the Supreme Court gave its approval to the Federal governent's use of electronic bugging devices to snoop on Americans, even in cases where such eavesdropping is illegal under State laws. See: Olmstead v. U.S. , 277 U.S. 438, 48 S.Ct. 564 (1928).

Writing for the dissent in Olmstead , Justice Louis Brandeis warned of the Pandora's Box of privacy invasions the Court was opening. Mr. Redden explains that just seven decades later, Americans are subject to pervasive forms of technological snitching from before their birth until after their death. Most of that covert surveillance and collection of information is conducted as a part of the daily routine of state and private businesses and organizations.

It can no longer be ignored that the technological surveillance portrayed in the chilling 1970 movie, Colossus: The Forbin Project , and in the book, The Year of Consent by Kendell F. Crossen (1954), is now more in the realm of the possible and even the real, than it is of science fiction.

This review only scratches the surface of the wealth of information in Snitch Culture and the breadth of its contents. The last 60 pages, for example, relate nine case studies which cover aspects of the snitching and surveillance Americans have been, and are continuously, subjected to. A valuable addition to future editions would be an index and bibliography, which are noticeably absent from the first edition.

Snitch Culture is a significant contribution to the growing body of criticism related to state and private spying, invasions of privacy, and law enforcement agencies' dependency on closing case files by purchasing tainted information and, often perjured, testimony. Mr. Redden paints a horrific portrait of the increasingly important role of snitching in the surveillance state that the U.S. has become. The book is worth reading by anyone wanting to increase their awareness of how their life is, and will continue to be, impacted by state and private surveillance, intelligence networks, and snitching techniques.

Snitch Culture can be ordered by mail for $18.45 ($14.95 + $3.50 s/h) from: Feral House, P.O. Box 13067, Los Angeles, CA 90013-0067. It can be ordered online at,, and other websites. Feral House's website is at:

[Editor's Note: The Olmstead case, noted above, was subsequently overruled by the Supreme Court, and the rules of evidence which govern the use of electronic bugging now fall under the purview of Fourth Amendment caselaw and the Exclusionary Rule. See: Berger v. State of New York, 388 U.S. 41, 87 S.Ct. 1873, (1967); Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507 (1967). See also, the Nardone cases ( Nardone v. United States ), 302 U.S. 379, 87 S.Ct. 1873 (1937) and 308 U.S. 338, 60 S.Ct. 266 (1939) (extending the Exclusionary Rule to wiretap evidence offered in federal prosecutions).]

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