Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dangerous "Surveillance State, U.S.A."

Tom Engelhardt, always first off the mark, has some exceptional wisdom and solid facts (imagine that) to offer to those grieving over the Ft. Hood tragedy. Thanks, Tom! (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

Even before Major Nidal Malik Hasan went on his killing spree, that base, a major military embarkation point for our war zones, was already experiencing the after-effects of eight years of war and repeated tours of duty. The suicide rate at Fort Hood was soaring (with 10 on the base in 2009 alone). Divorce rates were on the rise, as were mental health problems, drug and alcohol use, domestic abuse (up 75% since 2001), and murders among war-zone returnees. Even violent crime in Killeen, the town that houses the base, was up 22% (though it was down, according to the New York Times, "in towns of similar size in other parts of the country"). In an era in which our last president urged Americans to support his Global War on Terror by shopping and visiting Disney World, it often seemed that, except for soldiers and their families, our wars abroad affected little in this country.

And yet for an imperial power past its prime, foreign wars, even ones fought thousands of miles from home, have a way of coming back to haunt. Alfred W. McCoy tends to be ahead of the curve in his writing. In the Vietnam era, he had to fight the CIA to get his book, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, published; in the Bush years, he was perhaps the first person to recognize that the photos from Abu Ghraib represented no anomaly but the product of a long history of CIA torture research - and published a powerful book, A Question of Torture, on the subject.

His latest book, Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, meets counterinsurgency, another topic direct from today's headlines, head on.

It ends on these lines: ". . . a state, like the United States, that rules a foreign territory through political repression and pervasive policing soon finds many of those same coercive methods moving homeward to degrade its own democracy. Such are the costs of empire."

In his latest TomDispatch post, McCoy lays out just how that impulse for repression and policing, so vividly and violently expressed abroad in these last years, is now quietly taking aim at us.

- Tom

Welcome Home, War!

How America's Wars Are Systematically Destroying Our Liberties

By Alfred W. McCoy

In his approach to National Security Agency surveillance, as well as CIA renditions, drone assassinations, and military detention, President Obama has to a surprising extent embraced the expanded executive powers championed by his conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. This bipartisan affirmation of the imperial executive could "reverberate for generations," warns Jack Balkin, a specialist on First Amendment freedoms at Yale Law School. And consider these but some of the early fruits from the hybrid seeds that the Global War on Terror has planted on American soil. Yet surprisingly few Americans seem aware of the toll that this already endless war has taken on our civil liberties.

Don't be too surprised, then, when, in the midst of some future crisis, advanced surveillance methods and other techniques developed in our recent counterinsurgency wars migrate from Baghdad, Falluja, and Kandahar to your hometown or urban neighborhood. And don't ever claim that nobody told you this could happen - at least not if you care to read on.

Think of our counterinsurgency wars abroad as so many living laboratories for the undermining of a democratic society at home, a process historians of such American wars can tell you has been going on for a long, long time.

Counterintelligence innovations like centralized data, covert penetration, and disinformation developed during the Army's first protracted pacification campaign in a foreign land - the Philippines from 1898 to 1913 - were repatriated to the United States during World War I, becoming the blueprint for an invasive internal security apparatus that persisted for the next half century.

Almost 90 years later, George W. Bush's Global War on Terror plunged the U.S. military into four simultaneous counterinsurgency campaigns, large and small - in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and (once again) the Philippines - transforming a vast swath of the planet into an ad hoc "counterterrorism" laboratory. The result? Cutting-edge high-tech security and counterterror techniques that are now slowly migrating homeward.

As the War on Terror enters its ninth year to become one of America's longest overseas conflicts, the time has come to ask an uncomfortable question: What impact have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - and the atmosphere they created domestically - had on the quality of our democracy?

Every American knows that we are supposedly fighting elsewhere to defend democracy here at home. Yet the crusade for democracy abroad, largely unsuccessful in its own right, has proven remarkably effective in building a technological template that could be just a few tweaks away from creating a domestic surveillance state - with omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nano-second biometric identification, and drone aircraft patrolling "the homeland."

Even if its name is increasingly anathema in Washington, the ongoing Global War on Terror has helped bring about a massive expansion of domestic surveillance by the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA) whose combined data-mining systems have already swept up several billion private documents from U.S. citizens into classified data banks. Abroad, after years of failing counterinsurgency efforts in the Middle East, the Pentagon began applying biometrics - the science of identification via facial shape, fingerprints, and retinal or iris patterns - to the pacification of Iraqi cities, as well as the use of electronic intercepts for instant intelligence and the split-second application of satellite imagery to aid an assassination campaign by drone aircraft that reaches from Africa to South Asia.

In the panicky aftermath of some future terrorist attack, Washington could quickly fuse existing foreign and domestic surveillance techniques, as well as others now being developed on distant battlefields, to create an instant digital surveillance state.

"Ninth year" without any truly identifiable enemies. Please read the whole essay. Your children (and grandchildren) will thank you.

And did you hear that Blackwater is guarding Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan (as well as many members of Congress)? It's a good thing she is so tough.

Jeremy Scahill wonders if Obama may just be afraid of his handlers as he is quoted telling MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Tuesday night:

Despite news reports that the security contractor formerly known as Blackwater has seen its contracts dry up and its influence wane, the company continues to do brisk business in Iraq and Afghanistan - and the Obama administration may be too afraid of the firm to do anything about it . . . .

Scahill suggested that the security firm's deep and continued involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars means the company could potentially embarrass any administration with the things it can reveal.

"Another way of looking at this is Blackwater knows where a lot of bodies are buried," Scahill told Maddow. "These are guys who worked on the CIA assassination program, the drone bombing campaign, and regarding all of the senior officals, they know a heck of a lot about what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those are not guys that you want on the other side of the fence if you're running Washington."

Scahill dismissed as "nonsense" the idea that Blackwater continues to have contracts because its services can't be carried out by regular military forces.

So proud to have Blackwater in my backyard (even if it did have to change its name). Suzan ___________________________


TomCat said...

Suzan, thanks for a great piece. You remind us thet the fight for human rights begins at home.

Suzan said...

You are very welcome, TC, but we need to keep in mind that before the Raygun Revolution it wasn't that huge an issue.

We could still fool ourselves about the freedom/human rights thing, etc., before the grinning, arrogant, certain-of-their-own-righteousness idiots took control.

I used to think that they may have done us a favor. Not so much now.

Thanks again,


Beach Bum said...

Blackwater is far more dangerous than any terrorist organization. I'm no history expert but from what I do know mercenaries have nasty tendencies to turn on those that employ them.

Of course they are poster children for the republicans idea for outsourcing government to the private sector.

Suzan said...

Poster children, BB?

Like ittle lost lambs, huh?

I love your judgments.

If only the world could see as clearly.

Blackwater is far more dangerous than any terrorist organization.


Dave Dubya said...

It was bad enough to make deals with the Mafia, but the government really blew it when they got in bed with Xe corporate gangsters with a license to kill.

No possible good can come of it.

And a big thanks for the McCoy piece.

Suzan said...

You are very welcome, Dave.

Love your blog!


And a big thanks for the McCoy piece.