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A new documentary based on New York Times investigations has provided yet more stunning revelations about pop star Britney Spears’s daily life under her 13-year ongoing conservatorship, including claims that her phone was monitored and recorded and that her security installed a recording device in the pop star’s bedroom.
Controlling Britney Spears is a follow-up to FX and Hulu’s Emmy-nominated documentary, the New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears, which shocked viewers when it was released in February with a detailed look into Spears’s ongoing struggle to free herself from her father and the conservatorship.
The new 70-minute film, which first aired on Friday night, goes further inside the conservatorship arrangement, with interviews from Spears’s longtime former assistant, Felicia Culotta; her onetime head of wardrobe, Latisha “Tish” Yates; a former tour manager, Dan George; and former security staffer Alex Vlasov, who described in depth for the first time the extensive security apparatus reportedly installed at the behest of Spears’s father, Jamie, when the conservatorship was initiated in 2008.
The insiders detailed how Jamie worked with Edan Yemini, head of Black Box security, and Robin Greenhill, an employee of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group – which handled the business side of Spears’ career – to oversee nearly every aspect of the singer’s life, including preventing her from accessing her own credit cards and accounts and isolating her from friends.
Vlasov, a former employee of the security firm Black Box – hired by Jamie Spears to protect the star – claimed that the trio had a group chat that discussed “every step she took”, including closely managing her intimate relations. He claims that Greenhill proposed setting up an iPad to monitor Britney Spears’s iCloud activity, including texts, notes, calls, and browser history. Conversations with her friends, her mother, and her then lawyer were all closely watched.
Recording conversations in a private place and mirroring texts without both parties’ consent can be illegal. It’s not clear whether the court overseeing Spears’s conservatorship was aware of or approved the surveillance.
Vlasov supported his claims with emails, texts, and audio recordings from the nine years when he served as executive assistant and operations and security manager for the security firm. In the film, Vlasov shows an email from Ingham asking Jamie’s legal team for confirmation that “no one other than my client can access her calls, voicemails, or texts, directly or indirectly”.
Vlasov said that the elaborate surveillance operation allowed almost every aspect of her life to be controlled by people including her father and Greenhill. “It really reminded me of somebody that was in prison,” Vlasov says in the film. “And security was put in a position to be the prison guards, essentially.”
Vlasov also claims that Yemini had an audio recording device installed in Britney’s bedroom in 2016, which captured 180-plus hours of audio, including conversations between the star and her boyfriend as well as her children. Vlasov also said that Britney Spears’s father was fixated on the singer’s potential male suitors, who he claims had to sign NDAs and contracts. According to a report obtained by the Times by a court-appointed investigator who interviewed Britney Spears in 2016, her father approved all her friends, especially male ones; they were “followed by private investigators” to make sure “their behaviors were acceptable to her father”, the investigator wrote in the report.
The star was routinely denied relatively small indulgences by Jamie Spears and Greenhill, like sushi or Skechers shoes that caught her eye, with financial restrictions cited as the rationale. “You had sushi yesterday, it’s too expensive,” Yates recalled the singer being told. The documentary notes that Jamie Spears was at the time paying himself $16,000 a month out of the Britney Spears’s bank account.
Furthermore, undercover operatives were sent by Yemini to infiltrate the Free Britney movement of fans in its early days, according to Vlasov in the film, to create dossiers on key members. “They were extremely nervous, because they had zero control over the Free Britney movement and what’s going to come out of it,” Vlasov said.
The film’s release comes days before a court decides the future of Britney Spears’s conservatorship, which was instituted in 2008 shortly after she was twice hospitalized amid a number of public struggles and concerns about her mental health and potential substance abuse. Her father was appointed conservator, giving him vast control over her life and finances, including the power to hire 24/7 security for the star.
In June, Britney Spears excoriated the judicial system and her conservators and managers, called the arrangement abusive. Following those comments, the judge authorized her to choose her own lawyer. The court is expected on 29 September to consider the request of Britney Spears’s new lawyer, Mathew S Rosengart, to remove Jamie Spears as the conservator of the singer’s estate. Jamie Spears has insisted that the conservatorship operated in the best interest of his daughter and that calls for his removal were baseless. But on 7 September, Jamie Spears abruptly asked the court to consider whether to terminate the conservatorship entirely; the court is also expected to consider this request next week.