Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
January 2, 2006
Grant Goodman is an 81-year-old emeritus professor of Asian history at the University of Kansas.
He has had an ongoing correspondence by snail mail with a former professor of history at the University of the Philippines, where Goodman had taught on three separate occasions.
In early December, he was shocked when a letter arrived from her that had already been opened.
“The bottom of the envelope had been slashed open and then retaped with green tape,” says Goodman. “And it said, ‘Opened by Border Protection’ in great big letters. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security seal is on it, too.”
Goodman believes his rights have been “absolutely” violated, he says. “I just couldn’t believe it and wondered what in the world is going on.”
This story was broken by Joel Mathis of the Lawrence Journal-World.
No one at the press office at the Department of Homeland Security was available for comment to The Progressive on January 2, but a spokesman told the Journal-World that “he didn’t know how often the agency opened mail from abroad. And he wouldn’t discuss the criteria for opening letters.”
Goodman worries that he “must be under surveillance for one reason or other.”
He won’t release the name of the former professor in the Philippines, but says she is in her mid-80s and hardly a security risk. “This is a very devout Catholic woman who goes to 6:00 mass every evening, and I don’t know what they would be interested in her for,” he says. “She hasn’t written about anything in years.”
Goodman, the editor of the textbook “Asian History,” spoke most recently at the “International Conference on the Japanese Occupation: Sixty Years after the End of the Asia-Pacific War.” The conference was held in Singapore in September 2005.
Goodman hopes that his disclosure of this mail tampering will encourage other people to expose similar invasions of privacy.
“I purposely gave the letter to the newspaper in hopes that others would come forward with their experiences,” he says, “but none have so far.”
Goodman is amazed at the crudeness of the Homeland Security. In his historical research, he saw many better examples.
“I know how the Japanese opened mail,” he says. “In the 1930s they were very good at it. The people whose mail they were reading didn’t even know they had opened it.”