MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In an e-mail to BuzzFlash at Truthout, reader and sometimes commentary writer Marc Perkel phrased it this way: "One thing good about the NSA spying scandal is that the terrorists no longer hate us for our freedom."
Perkel certainly has a point.
Former President George W. Bush famously declared in a post-9/11 comment that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. That phrasing has a great appeal to it: What American would be against the liberties guaranteed in the Constitution?
The irony is that as individuals we cherish freedom, but as citizens we have generally been acquiescent in letting a bi-partisan coalition in DC – including the Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court – sacrifice our privacy and suppress dissent in the name of fighting the "enemy."
Last week BuzzFlash at Truthout wrote about how we, as a nation, have come to sanction the killing of "the other" – and this has translated to the battle of viewpoints, on a domestic level, of the "shoot first" stalking murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
As far as intelligence surveillance – combined with a longstanding suppression of dissent against the status quo (think of anti-Vietnam War arrests, anti-Keystone pipeline arrests, anti-Occupy Movement arrests, etc.) that stretch back to J. Edgar Hoover (and ever earlier in the widespread police suppression of the early days of the union movement, for example) – the revelations of Edward Snowden and other whistle blowers reveal a systemic monitoring of individuals overseas, other nations, corporate spying, and individuals in the US, a system that is built upon a longstanding and expanding institutionalization of spying and active police action opposition to those who advocate against the financial status quo or would threaten America's oligarchy.
James Bamford, a journalist, has long chronicled the secret eavesdropping of the NSA and other government and private agencies. Indeed, the New Yorker just published a profile of Bamford:
In 1982, long before most Americans ever had to think about warrantless eavesdropping, the journalist James Bamford published “The Puzzle Palace: A Report on N.S.A., America’s Most Secret Agency,” the first book to be written about the National Security Agency, which was started in 1952 by President Harry Truman to collect intelligence on foreign entities, and which we learned last week has been collecting the phone and Internet records of Americans and others. In the book, Bamford describes the agency as “free of legal restrictions” while wielding “technological capabilities for eavesdropping beyond imagination.” He concludes with an ominous warning: “Like an ever-widening sinkhole, N.S.A.’s surveillance technology will continue to expand, quietly pulling in more and more communications and gradually eliminating more and more privacy.” Three decades later, this pronouncement feels uncomfortably prescient: we were warned.
The New Yorker article goes on to note:
Bamford’s 1982 book is a reminder to anyone who thinks that domestic eavesdropping is a necessary part of a post-9/11 world that the N.S.A. has tested the bounds of the Fourth Amendment before. Project Shamrock, carried out after the Second World War, compelled companies like Western Union to hand over, on a daily basis, all telegraphs entering and leaving the United States. A younger sibling, Project Minaret, born in 1969, collected information on “individuals or organizations, involved in civil disturbances, antiwar movements/demonstrations and Military deserters involved in the antiwar movement….”
“The Shadow Factory,” Bamford’s rageful 2008 book about the N.S.A.’s current troubles, is probably the most relevant of Bamford’s books today. In it, he describes an agency that has become increasingly cavalier about what data it will collect, and from whom. As one official told Bamford, “It’s what the N.S.A.’s been doing since 9/11. They’re just sweeping the stuff up.” Hayden, by this time, has been made into “a three-star sycophant unwilling to protect the agency from the destructive forces of Cheney and [David] Addington,” Cheney’s chief of staff. Whereas “Body of Secrets” referenced Borges, “The Shadow Factory” alludes to Orwell.
But what has been the reaction of the American public – which is echoed by a corporate media generally supportive of the US government's unfettered spying "to protect us against terrorists"? The New Yorker reports:
At the root of Bamford’s fixation on the N.S.A. is a fascination with Americans’ willingness to “buy the company line” of spymasters, who assure us that the letter of the law is being followed, that civil liberties are respected, even as evidence accumulates suggesting the opposite. It seems we want to believe that those charged with protecting us may occasionally break the law, but will only do it to keep us safe, the way the roguish patriot Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, routinely does on the TV show “Homeland.”
All this has made Bamford increasingly outraged.
So spying and suppression of vocal protest against the status quo are nothing new in the United States; the apparatus for such action has, however, been exponentially increased, ratcheted up to a feverish pitch of surveillance involving hundreds of US agencies and hundreds and hundreds more of private contractors.
It is all in the name of battling "the other," in this case a relatively small group of fanatical terrorists. Before al-Qaeda, it was the Soviet Union and communists who were "the others." To J. Edgar Hoover, it was even civil rights protesters who were spied upon because they represented "the other."
In the name of protecting democracy, the Bush and Obama White Houses – with the overwhelming consent of Congress and the approval of the Supreme Court (Chief Justice John Roberts oversees the FISA Court as just one example) – have limited our freedoms and privacy to an extent that appears to be increasing like a tumbling avalanche. The surveillance complex – like the military industrial complex to which it is tethered – becomes a government beast that must continually be fed more and more as it grows. The result is that our privacy and freedoms become more and more the property of the US government – and even local law enforcement agencies that participate in "fusion centers," for instance.
There are now, particularly with the end of the Cold War and the winding down of military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, so many government contractors and government agencies that need an excuse for continued and increased funding. If terrorists didn't exist, even in their small numbers, the surveillance state would need to invent another "other" to justify the billions and billions of dollars spent on technological spying abroad and at home.
In the dust-up over the Snowden revelations, the mainstream corporate media has already seemingly forgotten the whistle blowers who warned of surveillance overreach – some of them prosecuted by the Obama administration – and of other spying programs, such as the decades old ECHELON program (a cooperative satellite and cable communications intercept program primarily carried out by the US and the UK).
Given all the long-term and mounting evidence of massive US government spying, including unauthorized eavesdropping on Americans, combined with the sometimes presumably linked suppression of grassroots advocacy opposition to the corporate state, such as the Occupy Movement, the issue of "terrorists" hating us for our freedoms does seem a bit outdated.
Fighting "terrorism" through massive surveillance and the suppression of populist movements that challenge corporate governance and projects has encroached so far on our constitutional freedoms that if you accepted that "they" hate us for our freedoms, "they" might have no reason to hate us anymore.