Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: Face Value

Blog Series Overview

This ONGOING blog series has several parts and builds on an earlier blog.  The first four address surveillance in the context of American empire, propaganda / ideology, illegitimate external control, and the question of totalitarianism.  The next four - starting with Deception as Policy - address the current policy discussion of this subject. 

Surveillance marks 2013.  The Information Age has ushered in an absolutely new era.  To quote Julian Assange in his book Cypherpunks, "Left to its own trajectory, within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible."

Where other post-9/11 National Security Agency whistleblowers had not quite brought the subject to the forefront of our minds, Edward Snowden succeeded in 2013.  Warrantless and suspicion-less NSA domestic surveillance has arrived.  For the time being*, I take him at his word as presented by The Guardian and Glenn Greenwald.  Ironically, Snowden may not have revealed much technological insight so far; he just has the paperwork to back it up.  

Consider this: the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a summary - based on a 2006 (!) declaration by Mark Klein - that outlines the use of 'splitters' or 'Narus devices' that re-direct full copies of AT&T Internet traffic to the NSA.  William Binney corroborated the existence of 'splitters' in 2012.  Point being: the Fourth
 Amendment has been gutted in terms of electronic privacy.


You have zero privacy anyway.  Get over it.

        Scott McNealy, Chairman and Co-Founder of Sun Microsystems, 1999

From a practical standpoint, this growing surveillance regime along with specific other trends in the United States reflect a nascent totalitarianism.  Though Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, recently said the story is 'clearly' not about totalitarianism, he simultaneously contended that a 'dangerous' infrastructure has been built and that "Orwell could never have imagined anything as complete as...this concept of scooping up everything all the time."  

Regardless, the scale and scope of surveillance today makes possible a deeper management of the American mind - which already exhibits preeminent regimentation.  Domestic surveillance and the struggle among members of our own Congress to obtain information regarding these programs reflect a century long and advancing ignorantization and infantization of the American people.

Some degree of NSA surveillance is not without purpose - particularly given the nature of nuclear terrorism - but we need to consider it in the context of rudimentary transparency and the state of illegitimate external control in the US.

A real discussion of surveillance starts with asking ourselves about the true context in which terror and surveillance have emerged.  


Surveillance, Terror, and Empire 

There is no record of a Muslim leader urging his brethren to wage jihad to destroy participatory democracy, the National Association of Credit Unions, or the coed Ivy League universities.  Many Muslims may not particularly like what and who the rest of us are, but those things seldom if ever make them hate us enough to attack us.

What the United States does in formulating and implementing policies affecting the Muslim world, however, is infinitely more inflammatory...  The focused and lethal threat posed to U.S. national security arises not from Muslims being offended by what America is, but rather from their plausible perception that the things they love most and value – God, Islam, their brethren, and Muslim lands – are being attacked by America.
        Michael Scheuer, former CIA officer & Bin Laden expert, 2005

Our message to you is clear, strong and final: there will be no salvation until you withdraw from our land, stop stealing our oil and resources and end support for infidel, corrupt rules.
        Ayman al-Zawahiri, current leader of al-Qaeda, 2005

The vanilla explanation of terror is that 'they hate our freedoms' as Bush once put it.  This is pablum.  We have run roughshod on much of the planet.  All judgements, apologies, and second guessing aside - our wars, civilian bombing campaigns, foreign policies, and covert actions have rightly initiated a degree of resentment and resistance - no where more than in the Middle East.  (I do not here wish to judge American global violence, ignore the dynamics of the Cold War, or ignore how this violence has provided the American people a significant measure of privilege.  I only want to situate Islamic terror in the context of this violence.)

To quote Scheuer again, "as long at we keep saying that they are attacking us because that hate our freedoms, we're never going to understand either the dimension or durability of this enemy."  In The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and researcher, pointed out (46:55) that WWI demonstrated how internal combustion and oil had become a pivotal force in American and European society.  Central Asia and the Middle East (once again) had become a strategic region.  By 1928, the Near East Development Corporation, a consortium of American companies, entered the Middle Eastern oil industry on legal and legitimate terms under the Red Line Agreement

However, we (via the CIAcompromised our moral position in the region by supporting a Syrian coup in 1949, an Iranian coup in 1953, and (likely) an Iraqi coup in 1963 as well as covertly arming Afghan mujahideen under Operation Cyclone beginning in 1979.  To further complicate our moral position in the region, we (via President Eisenhower's policy vision and the US Marines) involved ourselves in Lebanon under Operation Blue Bat in 1958 and (via President Reagan's policy vision, the US Marines, and US Navy Seals) involved ourselves in the Lebanon War in 1982.  

Although an enormous centuries-old schism exist between the US and certain Middle Eastern populations, our post-WWII successes at advancing American empire and securing Middle Eastern oil - to the benefit of everyone in the US - involved war and covert violence, which have begotten rational, strategic, and retaliatory terror.  (Indeed, our leaders have been quite explicit about empire and oil.**)  This component of terror, along with older entanglements, created a legitimate need for some forms of surveillance.  

Part 2, Synthetic Terror, addresses the role that synthetic violence and propaganda have played in enabling the growth of NSA surveillance. 


* If you really want to understand this issue, you have to research what all the whistleblowers have said.  They include: former NSA mathematician William Binney and former NSA systems analyst J. Kirk Wiebe in 2000 (when they went to Congress and the DOD), Binney and Wiebe (again) with former House Intelligence Committee aide Diane Roark and former NSA computer scientist Edward Loomis in 2002 (to the DOD), former NSA analyst Russ Tice in 2005 (to the press), DOJ Attorney Thomas Tamm in 2005 (to the press), former NSA official Thomas Drake in 2006 (to the press) and AT&T technician Mark Klein in 2006 (to the press).  (Check out this Russ Tice interview!)

I say 'For the time being' for a number of reasons.  Some - including Naomi Wolf and John Rappoport - suspect Snowden is not who he says he is.  Furthermore, I recently read two very disappointing pieces more or less about Greenwald by Mark Ames at pando.com - one about Greenwald and Laura Poitras and another about Pierre Omidyar. 

** Policy planner and former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union George Kennan was quite direct and logical on the subject of American imperialism in the 'Far East' in Memo PPS23 in 1948.  He wrote: "We must be very careful when we speak of exercising 'leadership' in Asia.  We are deceiving ourselves and others when we pretend to have answers to the problems, which agitate many of these Asiatic peoples.  Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3 of its population.  This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia.  In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.  

"Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.  To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives.  We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction".

Former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger addressed oil in 1970, saying "Control oil and you control the nations."  Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski reiterated this idea for the Middle Eastern and Central Asian contexts in 1998, saying "How America 'manages' Eurasia is critical".

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