Posts Tagged ‘National Security State’

The Internets/webs/tubes have been awfully active spinning out theories and conspiracies with respect to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (are those modifiers even necessary?) and the shoe ready to drop if and when Julian Assange releases information in his possession reputed to spell the end of her candidacy and political career. Assange has been unaccountably coy: either he has the goods or he doesn’t. There’s no reason to tease and hype. Hillary has been the subject of intense scrutiny for 25+ years. With so much smoke billowing in her wake, one might conclude burning embers must exist. But our current political culture demonstrates that one can get away with unthinkably heinous improprieties, evasions, and crimes so long as one trudges steadfastly through all the muck. Some even make a virtue out of intransigence. Go figure.

If I were charitable, I would say that Hillary has been unfairly maligned and that her 2010 remark “Can’t we just drone this guy?” is either a fabrication or taken out of context. Maybe it was a throwaway joke, uttered in a closed meeting and forgotten except for someone who believed it might be useful later. Who can ever know? But I’m not so charitable. No one in a position of authority can afford to be flip about targeting political irritants. Hillary impresses as someone who, underneath all the noise, would not lose any sleep over droning her detractors.

There is scarcely anything on the political landscape as divisive as when someone blows the whistle on illicit government actions and programs. For instance, some are absolutely convinced that Edward Snowden is a traitor and ought to receive a death sentence (presumably after a trial, but not necessarily). Others understand his disclosures as the act of a patriot of the highest order, motivated not by self-interest but by love of country and the sincere belief in the public’s right to know. The middle ground between these extremes is a veritable wasteland — one I happen to occupy. Julian Assange is similarly divisive, and like Snowden, he appears to believe that the truth will eventually come out and indeed must. What I can’t quite reconcile is the need for secrecy and the willingness of the general public to accept leaders who habitually operate behind such veils. Talk of transparency is usually just subterfuge. If we’re truly the good guys and our ideals are superior to those of our detractors, why not simply trust in those strengths?

In what has become a predictable status quo, President Obama recently renewed our official state of emergency with respect to the so-called War on Terror. It’s far too late to declare a new normal; we’ve been in this holding pattern for 16 years now. The article linked above provides this useful context:

There are now 32 states of national emergency pending in the United States, with the oldest being a 1979 emergency declared by President Jimmy Carter to impose sanctions during the Iran hostage crisis. Most are used to impose economic sanctions — mostly as a formality, because Congress requires it under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

In his term in office, Obama has declared 13 new emergencies, continued 21 declared by his predecessors and revoked just two, which imposed sanctions on Liberia and Russia.

Pro forma renewal of multiple states of national emergency is comparable to the 55-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba, due for reauthorization next month, though indications are that the embargo may finally be relaxed or deauthorized. Both are examples of miserably failed policy, but they confer a semblance of power on the executive branch. Everyone knows by now that no one relinquishes power willingly, so Obama, like chief executives before him, keeps on keeping on ad nauseum.

Considering Obama’s credential as a Constitutional scholar, relatively unique among U.S. presidents, one might expect him to weigh his options with greater circumspection and with an eye toward restoring suspended civil liberties. However, he has shown little interest in doing so (as far as I know). In combination with the election only a couple months away, the U.S. appears to be in a position similar to Germany in 1932 — ready and willing to elect a despot (take your pick …) and continue its slide into fascism. Can’t even imagine avoiding that outcome now.

The surprising number of ongoing emergencies makes me point to James Howard Kunstler and his book The Long Emergency (2006). Though I haven’t read the book (I’m a failed doomer, I suppose), my understanding is that his prediction of a looming and lingering emergency is based on two intertwined factors currently playing out in geopolitics: peak oil and global warming. (“Climate change” is now preferred over “global warming.”) Those two dire threats (and the California drought) have faded somewhat from the headlines, partially due to fatigue, replaced primarily by terrorism and economic stresses, but the dangers never went away. Melting icecaps and glaciers are probably the clearest incontrovertible indications of anthropogenic global warming, which is poised to trigger nonlinear climate change and hasten the Sixth Extinction. We don’t know when, precisely, though time is growing short. Similarly, reports on energy production and consumption are subject to considerable falsification in the public sphere, making it impossible to know just how close in time we are to a new energy crisis. That inevitability has also been the target of a disinformation campaign, but even a rudimentary understanding of scientific principles is sufficient to enable clear thinkers to penetrate the fog.

I have no plans to return to doom blogging with any vigor. One emergency stacked upon the next, ready to collapse in a cascade of woe, has defeated me, and I have zero expectation that any real, meaningful response can be formulated and executed, especially while we are distracted with terrorism and creeping fascism.

I already updated my original post from 2009 once based on Tom Engelhardt’s analysis, adding a few of my own thoughts. I want to revisit the original, provide an addendum to my review of Oliver Stone’s Untold History, and draw attention to Andrew Bacevich’s alternative narrative titled “American Imperium.” This is about geopolitics and military history, which fall outside my usual areas of interest and blogging focus (excepting the disgrace of torture), but they’re nonetheless pretty central to what’s going on the world.

Having now watched the remainder of Untold History, it’s clear that every administration since WWII was neck deep in military adventurism. I had thought at least one or two would be unlike the others, and maybe Gerald Ford only waded in up to his knees, but the rest deployed the U.S. military regularly and forcefully enough to beggar the imagination: what on earth were they doing? The answer is both simple and complex, no doubt. I prefer the simple one: they were pursuing global American hegemony — frequently with overweening force against essentially medieval cultures. It’s a remarkably sad history, really, often undertaken with bland justifications such as “American interests” or “national security,” neither of which rings true. I’ve likened the U.S. before to the playground bully who torments others but can never be psychologically satisfied and so suffers his own private torments on the way to becoming a sociopath. Why does every American president resemble that profile (war criminals all), so afraid to look weak that he (thus far in U.S. history, always a he) must flex those muscles at the expense of ordinary people everywhere? Women in positions of authority (e.g., Sec. of State, National Security Advisor), by the way, exhibit the same behavior: advising striking at weaklings to prove they can wear pants, too.

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As wants go, many are conventional and seemingly innocuous, at least on an individual level. If within reach, most of us will pull in what we want without much compunction regarding costs and effects downstream. Short-term satisfaction overrides forward planning. The most ubiquitous example may be sugar, which provides an immediate boost to brain chemistry, not dissimilar from that of cocaine, but is not a large part of the diet to which our Neolithic biology is evolved. Yet sugar is a large part of the typical American diet for a number of reasons beyond mere palatability. Indeed, food manufacturers have refined their recipes to create irresistible appeal by loading processed foods with fat, sugar, and salt. (As the saying goes, can’t eat just one!) Portion sizes don’t help: the typical tub of popcorn and 32 oz drink that for many accompany a typical movie showing (viewers squirming in their seats desperate to escape to the restrooms as soon as the credits roll) are a complete overload of all three. Little wonder that an obesity epidemic in the U.S. exists, along with diabetes appearing earlier and more regularly in the population.

Another typical indulgence is the automobile, indispensable in most American households as a frankly irreplaceable means of transport. We’re forced into our cars by virtue of the dearth of alternatives, but we want them anyway because of their obvious utility and the freedom they represent — a highly successful part of the marketing. No one tells you at the time of purchase, first vehicle or any thereafter, that you have also signed on to clog the atmosphere and streets alongside all the other drivers. Those who complain about the traffic are often oblivious to the fact that they are the traffic. Just be glad not to be part of this crazy 50-lane traffic jam in China:

Everything is bigger in Texas? I’d say China’s got the Lone Star state beat on this score.

Perhaps the most egregious example is arms, to use the term from the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although the 2nd Amendment is over 200 years old and conceived for a society quite different from the one we now have (well-regulated militias being notably absent from today’s society), the recognized right may have outlived its usefulness now that citizens are increasingly at risk of violence at each other’s hand in the home, workplace, church, and school. Maybe the shooter is an aggrieved postal worker (see the original provocation for the term going postal), a downsized factory worker, an abused spouse, a jilted boy- or girlfriend, a religious or political zealot, a social misfit, or an honest-to-goodness terrorist (a few exist, though the actual numbers are IMO grossly exaggerated to keep everyone on edge and to justify our ridiculously out-of-proportion security apparatus), easy availability of the gun amplifies the force an individual can bring to bear on his or her targets.

In the wake of yet another school shooting — yes, senseless and deplorable like so many others, both past and future (there’s bound to be more) — beyond the condemnation of the shooter and by-the-numbers characterization of the “lone, crazed gunman” no one could see coming, wouldn’t it be interesting to describe wanting a gun in the first place as having the collateral effect that others, too, would have guns and that a background level of (increasing?) violence and mayhem would simply have to be considered part of the package, part of the right as equally applied? The consequence of too much sugar is getting fat and/or being unhealthy. Lots of people have already made that deal. The consequence of driving an automobile is contributing to pollution and congestion. Few of us have realistic alternatives given how society is structured. The consequence of gun ownership is that people will have to die, not by one’s own hand necessarily, but as an inevitable part of the right of gun ownership made available to most anyone who wants one. This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons for law-abiding citizens to want guns. I acknowledge that fully. But illegitimate uses are stowed away in the baggage hold.

No politician will describe the current state of American society as violent and arbitrary, where one’s fellow citizens could snap at any moment and rampage through one’s own workplace or neighborhood. Frankly, I’m surprised that Wild West shootouts depicted in cops-and-robbers movies have not yet become commonplace. Rather, the lone shooter in most scenarios tends to proceed unhindered until the event is played to its conclusion, typically with the shooter taking his or her own life. Blaze of glory, etc. Will we reach a point at which everyday violence becomes so intolerable that American citizens will relinquish their right to bear arms in the hopes of gaining peace and tranquility? No, I’m pretty confident that we will instead go out in a blaze of glory — cold, dead hands and all that.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” –Arthur C. Clarke

/rant on

Jon Evans at TechCrunch has an idiot opinion article titled “Technology Is Magic, Just Ask The Washington Post” that has gotten under my skin. His risible assertion that the WaPo editorial board uses magical thinking misframes the issue whether police and other security agencies ought to have backdoor or golden-key access to end-users’ communications carried over electronic networks. He marshals a few experts in the field of encryption and information security (shortened to “infosec” — my, how hep) who insist that even if such a thing (security that is porous to select people or agencies only) were possible, that demand is incompatible with the whole idea of security and indeed privacy. The whole business strikes me as a straw man argument. Here is Evans’ final paragraph:

If you don’t understand how technology works — especially a technical subgenre as complex and dense as encryption and information security — then don’t write about it. Don’t even have an opinion about what is and isn’t possible; just accept that you don’t know. But if you must opine, then please, at least don’t pretend technology is magic. That attitude isn’t just wrong, it’s actually dangerous.

Evans is pushing on a string, making the issue seem as though agencies that simply want what they want believe in turn that those things come into existence by the snap of one’s fingers, or magically. But in reality beyond hyperbole, absolutely no one believes that science and technology are magic. Rather, software and human-engineered tools are plainly understood as mechanisms we design and fabricate through our own effort even if we don’t understand the complexity of the mechanism under the hood. Further, everyone beyond the age of 5 or 6 loses faith in magical entities such as the Tooth Fairy, unicorns, Fairy God Mothers, etc. at about the same time that Santa Claus is revealed to be a cruel hoax. A sizable segment of the population for whom the Reality Principle takes firm root goes on to lose faith in progress, humanity, religion, and god (which version becomes irrelevant at that point). Ironically, the typically unchallenged thinking that technology delivers, among other things, knowledge, productivity, leisure, and other wholly salutary effects — the very thinking a writer for TechCrunch might exhibit — falls under the same category.

Who are these magical creatures who believe their smartphones, laptops, TVs, vehicles, etc. are themselves magical simply because their now routine operations lie beyond the typical end-user’s technical knowledge? And who besides Arthur C. Clarke is prone to calling out the bogus substitution of magic for mechanism besides ideologues? No one, really. Jon Evans does no one any favors by raising this argument — presumably just to puncture it.

If one were to observe how people actually use the technology now available in, say, handheld devices with 24/7/365 connection to the Internet (so long as the batteries hold out, anyway), it’s not the device that seems magical but the feeling of being connected, knowledgeable, and at the center of activity, with a constant barrage of information (noise, mostly) barreling at them and defying them to turn attention away lest something important be missed. People are so dialed into their devices, they often lose touch with reality, much like the politicians who no longer relate to or empathize with voters, preferring to live in their heads with all the chatter, noise, news, and entertainment fed to them like an endorphin drip. Who cares how the mechanism delivers, so long as supply is maintained? Similarly, who cares how vaporware delivers unjust access? Just give us what we want! Evans would do better to argue against the unjust desire for circumvention of security rather than its presumed magical mechanism. But I guess that idea wouldn’t occur to a technophiliac.

/rant off

Among numerous elephants in the room, trampling everything in sight and leaving behind giant, steaming piles of shit, the one that galls me the most is the time, effort, expense, and lives we Americans sacrifice to the Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Homeland Security, and various other government agencies. The gargantuan corporate-military-industrial complex they have grown into over the past 65 years diverts our attention away from other honorable and worthwhile endeavors we might undertake if we weren’t instead so consumed with blowing people up and taking their stuff while playing bully-as-victim. I’m a little too young to have been scarred they way many of my elders were, ducking, covering, and cowering under schoolroom desks, so I never formed a worldview based on bogeymen. Yet that is the prevailing view, and we currently have the capacity to interfere and cause mischief globally. Impunity for doing so cannot be expected to last. Indeed, many of the current crop of clown presidential candidates see use of force to redistribute their (furriners) resources to us (Murricans) as the best option as eroding wealth and increasing scarcity threaten difficulty maintaining the vaunted American way of life. Blowhard candidate Donald Trump is probably most honest about it, promising that as president he would basically forgo diplomacy in favor of smash-and-grab escalation. Pretty fucking scary, if you ask me.

One of my favorite films is The Hunt for Red October, a taut thriller balancing on the edge of nuclear Armageddon. That clever analysts might assess situations for what they truly are and steer geopolitics away from unnecessary bombing (and concomitant self-annihilation) is especially appealing to me. However, if those people exist beyond fiction, they are below my radar. Instead, in the marketplace of ideas, we have unsubtle thinkers committed to the same useless conventions (bombing didn’t work? then we need more bombing!) as Robert McNamara famously finally(!) recognized and admitted to late in life and as described in the documentary film The Fog of War. Yet as much as unconventional thinking is admired (some bloggers have made themselves into clichés with their predictable topsy-turvy argumentation), operationally, we’re stuck with Cold War strategizing, not least because minor powers threaten to become irrational, world-ending demons should any acquire a nuclear bomb. Current negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions are of just that sort, and America never fails to rise to the bait. However, as attractive as nuclear capability must seem to those not yet in the club, weaponized versions offer little or no practical utility, even as deterrents, in an age of mutually assured destruction (a MAD world, quite literally) should that genie be let back out of the bottle. Any analyst can recognize that.

Once striking act of unconventional thinking is Pres. Obama’s recent step toward ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Thus far, economic sanctions are still in place, and travel restrictions have been relaxed only in the case of missionary or educational work. Still, even minor revisions to this Cold War relic suggest further changes may be in store. I’m of mixed opinion about it; I expect Cuba to be ruined if overrun by American tourists and capital. It would be a different kind of bomb exploded on foreign soil but no less destructive.

Lastly, Greece is the current trial balloon (one that bursts) for exit from the European Union and its currency. The trope about the historical seat of modern democracy being the first to fail is a red herring; pay it no attention. We’re all failing in this best of all possible worlds. Thus far, events have been relatively orderly, at least so far as media reports portray. Who can know just how disruptive, violent, and ghastly things will get when the gears of industrial machinery seize up and stop providing everything we have come to expect as normal. Some countries are better equipped psychologically to handle such setbacks. Least among them is the U.S. Having just passed Bastille Day on the calendar, it occurred to me that it has been many generations since the U.S. has seen blood flowing in the streets (not counting a spate of massacres and police murders of civilians, which show no signs of abating), but considering how we are armed to the teeth and have the impulse control of a typical three-year-old, going positively apeshit is pretty much guaranteed when, say, food supplies dwindle. I’m hardly alone in saying such things, and it seems equally obvious that over the past decade or more, the federal government has been not-so-quietly preparing for that eventuality. How the mob is managed will be ugly, and one has to pause and wonder how far things will go before a complete crack-up occurs.

I’m not quite yet done with the idea behind this post, namely, that certain insidious ideas permit problems that more wizened thinking might avoid. If I were less judicious, I might say that lousy ideas generate many of our problems, but cause-and-effect and correlation links are too subtle to draw unambiguous conclusions. Along those lines, I’ve been puzzling the last few weeks over the Middle East, including (of course) Israel and North Africa. Everyone seems to have a pet theory how to put an end to endless violence and mayhem in the region. Most theories call for (further) bombing, strategic or otherwise, of one faction or another. Clearly, that’s not really a solution, since wreaking even more havoc and violence solves nothing, and it’s equally obvious that no pat solution exists. The situation has become a multigenerational, multinational conflict that perpetuates itself, the original provocation(s) having been long forgotten or subsumed into more recent events. Such events include no small amount of meddling and destabilization by the United States and its allies, plus economic difficulties that have people in the streets agitating for a reasonable share of what’s available, which is diminishing rapidly as overpopulation and industrial collapse ramp up in the region.

Reasons why conflict arises are many, but let’s not lose sight of our response. Statesmen of an earlier era might have been predisposed toward diplomatic and economic responses. Indeed, foreign aid and restructuring plans such as those that followed WWII might be examples of a better way to deploy our resources now to achieve desirable results for everyone (here and there). So why do today’s government policy- and decision-makers with their fingers on the buttons — those holding the presumed monopoly on the use of force — now so frequently resort to bombing and decades-long armed response, entailing boots on the ground, air strikes from carriers positioned in the region, and now drone warfare? Destroying people, infrastructure, industrial capacity, and with them means of living peaceably does not make us safer at home, unless there is something they know that I don’t. Rather, considering the apparently unlimited availability of arms to various factions (in high contrast with, um, er, well, food and jobs), it seems obvious that we’re seeding revolution while radicalizing populations that might prefer to be left alone to work out their own problems, which frankly would probably involve armed conflict. So in effect, we’re painting the bullseye on our own backs (and have been for a long time as the self-appointed World Police with strategic interests extending quite literally across the globe), uniting disparate factions against a common enemy — us.

So let me ask again: what makes this possible? In an era of psychotic knowledge and managed perception (and to a far lesser extent, managed consent), many leaders have developed bunker mentality, where everyone is a threat (even from within) and they (whoever they are, it hardly matters) all always poised to come for us and take away our vaunted freedoms (rhetoric alert). Never mind that the reverse is actually more true. I’ve argued before that bunker mentality goes hand-in-hand with Cold War paranoia drummed into the heads of folks who were children in the 1950s and 60s. Too many duck-and-cover air raid drills during primary school left indelible marks on their souls. Younger G-men and -women are undoubtedly infected by the meme now, too, by frequent security briefings that make the world look far more dangerous (to us) than it actually is, not unlike so many police shows on TV that overstate by a large margin the frequency of, say, street shootouts. (Fatalities from automobile accidents and obesity far outstrip losses from terrorism and other existential threats. Go look it up.) Fruit of that propaganda is our current fight-or-flight response: always, always fight; never, ever take flight. The mouth-breathing public is on board with this, too, always ready to throw down with reckless, half-wit commentary such as “bomb them back to the Stone Age!” Yet a few noisy pundits are beginning to suggest that the U.S. transition back to a more isolationist policy, perhaps sitting out a conflict or two rather than engaging reflexively, thoughtlessly, and pointlessly. Isolationism was our stance prior to WWII, having learned in the American Civil War and WWI that warfare absolutely sucks and should be avoided instead of relished. Living memory of those conflagrations is now gone, and we’re left instead with bullshit jingoism about the Greatest Generation having won WWII, quietly skipping over wars we lost gave up on in Korea and Vietnam.

For a long time, people have tried to draw connections between TV and videogame violence and actual crime. The same is true of pornography and rape. No direct links have been demonstrated convincingly using the tools of psychometrics, much to the chagrin of crusaders and moralists everywhere. Yet the commonsense connection has never really been dispelled: if the culture is positively saturated with images of violence and sexuality (as it is), whether actual, fabricated, or fictional (for the purpose of dramatic license and entertainment), then why wouldn’t vulnerable thinkers’ attitudes be shaped by irrational fear and lust? That’s nearly everyone, considering how few can truly think for themselves, resisting the dominant paradigm. Imagery and rhetoric deployed against us throughout the mainstream media is undoubtedly hyperviolent and hypersexual, but we’re smarter as a people than to succumb to such lures and lies? Sorry, even without peer-reviewed studies to show direct causation, that just doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

I have always remembered a striking line from the movie The Dancer Upstairs where the police investigator, who is tracking the leader of Shining Path in Peru in the 1980s, says (paraphrasing from Spanish), “I think there is a revolution going on.” Elsewhere on the globe today, Arab Spring has morphed from a series of U.S.-instigated regime changes into an emerging Arab state (ISIS), though establishing itself is violent and medieval. According to Tom Engelhardt, even the U.S. has a new political system rising out of the ruins of its own dysfunction. Unless I’m mistaken, a revolution is a political system being overthrown by mass uprising of the citizenry, whereas a coup is a powerful splinter within the current regime (often the military wing) seizing administrative control. What Engelhardt describes is more nearly a coup, and like the quote above, it appears to be coalescing around us in plain sight, though that conclusion is scarcely spoken aloud. It may well be that Engelhardt has succeeded in crystallizing the moment. His five principal arguments are these:

  1. 1% Elections — distortion of the electoral system by dollars and dynasties.
  2. Privatization of the State — proper functions of the state transferred into the hands of privateers (especially mercenaries and so-called warrior corporations — nice neologism).
  3. De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency — fundamental inability to govern, regulate, and/or prosecute at the Federal level, opening up a power vacuum.
  4. Rise of the National Security State (Fourth Branch of Government) — the dragnet complex revealed (in part) by whistle-blower Edward Snowden but plain to see post-9/11.
  5. Demobilization of the American People — surprising silence of the public in the face of such unwholesome developments.

Please read the article for yourself, which is very well written. (I am no great fan of the journalistic style but must acknowledge that Engelhardt’s work is terrific.) I especially like Engelhardt’s suggestion that a grand conspiracy (e.g., New World Order) is not necessary but that instead it’s all being improvised on the run. Let me offer a couple observations of my own.

Power has several attributes, such as the position to influence events, the resources to get things done, and the ability to motivate (or quell) the public through active management of perception. High offices (both government and boardroom, both elected and appointed) are the positions, the U.S. Treasury and the wealth of the 1% are the resources, and charismatic storytelling (now outright lying) is management of perception. Actors (a word chosen purposely) across the American stage have been maneuvering for generations to wield power, often for its own sake but more generally in the pursuit of wealth. One might assume that once personal wealth has been acquired motivations would slacken, but instead they divert in not a few psychopaths to maniacal building of multigenerational dynasties.

Pulling the levers of state in one capacity or another is a timeworn mechanism for achieving the proxy immortality of the American statesman. However, as dysfunction in the political arena has grown, corporations (including banks) have assumed the reins. Despite corporate personhood being conferred and recently expanded, largely via judicial fiat, the profit motive has reasserted itself as primary, since there is no such thing as a fully self-actualized corporation. Thus, we have the Federal Reserve System acting as a de facto corporation within government — but without conscience. Multiply that hundreds of times over and voilà: an American corporatocracy.

The effect has been extrapolated in numerous movies and television shows, all offering dystopic warnings of things to come where people, domestic and alien, are all expendable as power seeks to perpetuate itself. How far this can go before financial collapse, climate change, energy scarcity, or a host of others looming calamities overtakes is yet to be seen. Some hold out hope for true revolution, but I believe that possibility has been contained. Considering how the world has been accelerating toward ecocide, I venture that at most a few more decades of desperate negotiations with fate are in store for us. Alternatively, I find it entirely feasible that the delicate web of interconnections that maintain life in all its manifestations could suffer a phase shift rather quickly, at which point all bets are off. Either way, in no one’s wildest imagination could our current civilization be considered the best we can do, much less the best of all possible worlds.

Creeping fascism has been a problem for some years now. Without much recourse short of armed revolt, considering how ineffectual the election process is for instigating real change, many citizens (including me) stood idly by and watched their rights and civil liberties ebb away on a daily basis as the state consolidates its control over all aspects of daily life. The precedent for today’s emerging fully operational security state (or surveillance society, as I’ve seen it called) lies in the early days of the Cold War. Having just emerged triumphant from WWII yet seeing ongoing threats on all sides, many in government began assembling a paranoid and invasive apparatus for gathering intelligence and protecting American interests. It’s almost inevitable that spending one’s life addressing external threats (and increasingly, internal ones) would warp one’s perceptions and judgment, and accordingly, it’s fair to suspect that many operatives both then and now suffer from what the French call a déformation professionnelle.

If you think this is mere hyperbole, I submit you haven’t been paying attention. A quick visit to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) website quickly gives readers the sense that the country is under siege. Its mission statement reads as follows:

CBP is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest and most complex components, with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws.

My visit to the website was for a simple customs issue, but navigating the site and perusing its content was more than a bit spooky. The front-and-center pointer to terrorists and weapons, while a legitimate concern of the agency, may not be a primary concern of the citizenry except for the agency’s Orwellian interest in keeping everyone constantly on edge. Blissfully missing was a flashing banner with the current alert level status, which is discomfiting enough when it blares over PAs at airports and transportation hubs, as though travelers had any meaningful response. (Reminds me of the air raid sirens tested on the first Wednesday of each month during my youth — rather needless in retrospect, since no one was every really coming for us.) Indeed, the website appears to be equally informational and public relations efforts, with public opinion toward its mandate being shaped heavily.

More significantly, consider that many functions of state security and surveillance are now being handled by InfraGard (isn’t the misspelling of guard rather cute?), a private organization with chapters throughout the U.S. that works in conjunction with the FBI. This is from its website:

InfraGard is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide range of members. At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and the private sector. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories. Each InfraGard Chapter has an FBI Special Agent Coordinator assigned to it, and the FBI Coordinator works closely with Supervisory Special Agent Program Managers in the Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This arrangement has been criticized by The Progressive as effectively deputizing private industry to spy on people and granting business leaders unwarranted access to “an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.” As with privatization of many former functions of the military, this is more than a little bothersome.

But it gets worse. A book by Nick Turse titled The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives describes how fully the Pentagon has infiltrated and coopted everything for its purposes, which bears comparison to the movie The Matrix as a comprehensive thought control experiment brought to life. A lengthy excerpt appears in an article in TomDispatch.com with preliminary commentary, from which I quote this portion:

At one point in his farewell speech, Eisenhower presaged this point, suggesting, “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — [of the conjunction of the military establishment and the large arms industry] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” But only Hollywood has yet managed to capture the essence of today’s omnipresent, all-encompassing, cleverly hidden system of systems that invades all our lives; this new military-industrial-technological-entertainment-academic-scientific- media-intelligence-homeland security-surveillance-national security-corporate complex that has truly taken hold of America.

And yet more bad news was delivered over the weekend, at least if you subscribe to the famous Benjamin Franklin quote: “Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times (and elsewhere) describe how the Justice Department, rather than acting as a check on the excesses of the Executive Branch, has given support to Bush’s authoritarian interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, stating that interrogation techniques used would be judged on a sliding scale depending on the identity of the detainee and the information he or she is believed to possess. I’ve blogged before on the use of torture by our government, and despite its repugnance to most of the public, different branches of government — in defiance of international treaties — still insist upon it as a necessary tactic.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the motives behind authoritarian types for whom the modern security state would have been the wet dream of budding Cold Warriors. Are they benevolent tyrants, protecting the population for its own good, or mere profiteers, gathering riches, power, and influence to themselves? And is there some point at which the moment will crystallize into a realization by the general public that the U.S., with its gargantuan military budget and astonishing level of incarceration, has devolved into a fascist state run by a despotic oligarchy?