For 50 years, the Puerto Rican Police Department in conjunction and with the F.B.I conducted a massive operation aimed at eliminating the Puerto Rican pro-independence movement.
This project tells the stories of people that were politically persecuted under the guise of security surveillance. Portraits of those surveilled are paired with photographs of their respective surveillance files providing the viewer with a rare opportunity to explore the stains and creases of these handmade surveillance objects— revealing small narratives about the process of those who made a living watching others.
Over 150,000 dossiers created by the Puerto Rican Police exist containing surveillance on individuals, organizations, geographic locations, and vehicles. About 15,000 of those are extensive files on individuals deemed “political subversives” often containing detailed surveillance of every aspect of that person’s life and anybody with whom they came into contact. At least 924 files, a total of 185,551 folios, created by the FBI have been released with redaction but a unknown amount of similar federal files remain classified.
The police tactics were often deceptive and reached far beyond the subjects political life. Juan Angel Silén’s wife often received anonymous letters alleging his infidelity, an experience shared by multiple subjects. Additionally, for subjects it became difficult to hold down a job because agents would visit their employers and notify them of the individual’s “dangerous” activity.
Following court cases in 1988, the surveillance documents were released and subjects learned that brothers, sons, friends and neighbors were informing on them for the police, in exchange for money. The blow of seeing 30 years of their lives documented was only amplified by the fact that those closest to them had also been betraying them all along.
This project is a rare opportunity to take an unredacted look at a government’s efforts to suppress political speech. These files and the subjects’ experiences illustrate the methods used in surveillance that in the digital age are undetectable. From this painful episode in Puerto Rican history important lessons can be learned about the fate that heavily surveilled populations could face in light of the Snowden revelations.