‘Controlling Britney Spears’ Reveals the Pop Star and #FreeBritney Supporters Were Spied On Relentlessly

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via FX/Hulu
via FX/Hulu

In less than a week, Britney Spears is set to appear in front of a Los Angeles judge, where she’s expected once again to plead with the court to dissolve her “traumatizing” 13-year conservatorship, and at the very least, remove her father Jamie Spears from having any say over her life anymore.

In June, the 39-year-old issued a heartbreaking plea to the judge, detailing how nearly every facet of her life has been dictated by the conservatorship, claiming that her team decided when she could see her two sons, made her work against her will, and refused to allow her to marry her boyfriend or have more children.

Shedding more light on how controlling Spears’ management team could be is The New York Times Presents’ documentary Controlling Britney Spears, which aired Friday night on FX and Hulu. The follow-up comes months after the teams’ bombshell doc Framing Britney Spears, which helped spark massive interest in Spears’ case.

“I’ve never spoken about what we witnessed,” Tish Yates, Spears’ former head of wardrobe from 2008-2010 and 2013-2018, says. “You know, we signed those NDAs, and it has been hard to come forward knowing that there are people in her management that could stop me from making a living. But this is important, and this is a human life that has been tortured.”

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And Alex Vlasov, who worked for nearly a decade as part of Spears’ wider security team, claims that Spears’ cellphone was being constantly monitored, including her browsing history, photographs, text messages, and phone calls. (It is potentially illegal in California to mirror someone’s communications without the consent of both parties.)

“Ethically, it was one big mess,” he says. “It really reminded me of somebody that was in prison, and security was put in a position to be the prison guards, essentially.”

Vlasov claims that his boss Edan Yemini, the president of Black Box Security, would routinely ask him to encrypt messages that Spears had sent so he could hand those communications over to Jamie Spears and Robin Greenhill, who worked under Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group, Spears’ business management company.

Yemini had allegedly approached Vlasov about installing spyware on Spears’ iPhone and claimed that both the court and Spears’ lawyer, Sam D. Ingham, were aware that her team intended to monitor her cellphone. Vlasov claims it was Greenhill who came up with the idea to use an iPad with the same iCloud logins as Spears’ phone, so all the activity would be mirrored.

“They openly talked about monitoring her,” Vlasov says in the documentary. “Their reasons for monitoring were looking for bad influences, looking for potential illegal activity that might happen. But they [would] also monitor conversations with her friends, with her mom, with her lawyer Sam Ingham.”

Vlasov alleges that Yemini had bugged Spears’ bedroom and that one day, he anxiously came to Vlasov with the recording device and USB drive and asked him to wipe it. Vlasov says in the documentary that he was told the files were “extremely sensitive” and no one should know about it.

“That raised some red flags, and I did not want to be complicit in whatever they were involved in,” Vlasov shares. “So, I kept a copy, because I don’t want to delete evidence.”

While the documentary doesn’t play any of the audio from the device Vlasov preserved, it suggests that reporters had reviewed the recordings, describing how the USB drive had 180 hours of audio, which contained conversations with Spears’ boyfriend Sam Asghari and her children.

Vlasov dropped another bombshell when he produced email correspondence between Ingham, Yemini, Jamie Spears’ attorney, and Spears’ court-appointed conservator Jodi Montgomery.

The exchange indicates that Ingham was aware of the possibility that Spears’ phone was being monitored without her consent. “With regard to any new phone, ethically, I need to get written confirmation that no one other than my client can access her calls, voicemails, or texts, directly or indirectly,” he wrote. The documentary does not specify when the email was sent.

In response, Spears’ attorney Geraldine Wyle responded, “Jamie confirms that he has no access to her calls, voicemails, or texts.”

Both Vlasov and Yates say that Jamie Spears would often take away Spears’ phone for minor reasons, including when Spears communicated with someone he didn’t approve of.

“Her own phone, her own private conversations were used so often to control her,” Vlasov adds. “I know for a fact that Jamie would confront Britney and say, ‘Hey, why did you talk to this person?’”

Yates was moved to the point of tears when recalling how Spears was allegedly treated by her management, claiming that Greenhill would even deny her sushi for dinner because it was “too expensive” or because she had it the night before. Once, when Spears wanted a pair of Skechers, she was told by her management that she had no money to buy them.

“If she pushed back a little bit, they pushed harder,” Yates says. “Then the yelling got louder. Jamie would come up and say, ‘No, you’re not having this,’ and then it would escalate to not having the boys.”

The New York Times was able to obtain text messages from Spears’ phone from when Spears was submitted to a rehab facility in the spring of 2019. At Spears’ June court hearing, she indicated that she was admitted to the facility against her will.

“I cried on the phone for an hour and [Jamie Spears] loved every minute of it,” she said. (In California, it is against the law for a conservator to admit their conservatee to a mental health facility without their consent.)

The messages The New York Times obtained also back this claim up, as Spears allegedly texted a friend, “My lawyer doesn’t even work for me, security is at the door 24/7.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Protesters attend a #FreeBritney Rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse on July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles, California. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Emma McIntyre/Getty</div>

Protesters attend a #FreeBritney Rally at Stanley Mosk Courthouse on July 14, 2021, in Los Angeles, California.

Emma McIntyre/Getty

Spears was also communicating with an outside lawyer and plotting for a way to sneak the attorney in so they could have a meeting, according to the messages. However, because Spears was aware that her conservatorship team would object to her hiring her own legal representation, she suggested that the attorney pretend to be a plumber so they could come meet her.

When the #FreeBritney movement took off that spring, Vlasov alleges that undercover investigators were placed within the crowds to talk to her fans and to document who some of her most outspoken supporters were. “It was all under the umbrella of, ‘This is for Britney’s protection,’” he says.

He also claims that Spears’ team quickly became aware of the intense scrutiny they were under, so they arranged for photographers to take pictures of Spears leaving a hotel with her boyfriend to squash any concern for Spears.

Also featured in the new documentary is Felicia Culotta, Spears’ former longtime personal assistant and family friend who was pushed out from Spears’ life after the conservatorship was put in place.

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Tearing up, she admits she hasn’t been able to talk to Spears in years but looked at the camera and recited what she would tell her if she was finally able to get in contact with her again.

“Hey Brit,” she starts. “I want you to remember how strong you are, how talented you are, how silly you are, how goofy you are. That heart of yours is gigantic… Hang in there, your voice is coming back. You’re louder, and prouder, and more powerful than I’ve seen you in a very long time. I love you and I will support you no matter what.”

Yates also says she hasn’t spoken to Spears in years, saying that every number she had for the singer has been changed. Through tears, Yates says after one of Spears’ last tours, she gifted her a Tiffany necklace with her phone number engraved on it—in case she ever needed to get in touch with her.

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