Saturday, December 7, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: A Nascent Totalitarianism


The question of illegitimate external control deserves serious attention in light of currents trends.


Surveillance and Totalitarianism

We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.

          William Binney, 2012 

[T]he US government has gone further than any previous government - not excluding Stalin's - in setting up machinery that satisfies certain tendencies that are in the genetic code of totalitarianism.
          Jonathan Schell, September

[We are employing the] procedures of totalitarianism.  

          Eben Moglen, October 

The United States is not a totalitarian state...and yet we're making such progress.  Even though totalitarian states killed nearly 130 million people - according to political scientist Rudolph Rummel - the subject seems distant, absurd, or just boring.  It is the work of the academic and the obsession of the intellectual...that is - until it's too late.  It is not hyperbole to implicate the NSA with totalitarian power.

Traditional (external) totalitarianism, as seen in Germany, Russia, and Italy, is the fruit of mass communications, modern weapons, urbanization, chaos and/or humiliation of World War I, explicit Anti-Liberal political thinking (a la Rousseau and Marx), and gangsterism.  It utilized the physical and technological imposition of the state in the life of the individual.  Contemporary totalitarianism (or 'inverted' totalitarianism to borrow a term from political scientist Sheldon Wolin*) is largely the fruit of propaganda and managed public opinion - a far cheaper method.  It utilizes less in the way of state imposition.  The NSA is changing that.

We are going beyond Wolin's inverted totalitarianism.  Certain NSA programs bridge the two totalitarian legacies.  Without contemporary totalitarianism - its propaganda and culture of fear - these surveillance programs, which embody traditional totalitarianism, have little justification.

Warrantless and suspicionless domestic surveillance constitutes an illegitimate imposition of the state into the political and economic life of the American.  To quote NSA Director Alexander, 
"it is in the nation's best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search when the nation needs to do it."  Though not at the NSA, CIA Chief Technology Officer for the Chief Information Officer Gus Hunt shares a similar idea: "we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever."  "It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information".  These federal official leave no mystery about what is occuring.

Certain NSA programs and other issues described in part 3, Illegitimate External Controlprovide a 21st century initializing body to the existing spirit of (traditional) American totalitarianism that surfaced in the 20th century.  

In 1933, US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler brought our attention to the 'Business Plot' - a plan for an American fascist coup.  The McCormack-Dickstein Committee did nothing of real consequence regarding the plot - which is consistent with public administration professors and researchers Lance deHaven-Smith and Matthew Witt's thesis that the "investigations of assassinations, defense failures, election breakdowns, and other political events with grave implications for America and the world fail to meet basic standards for transparency, independence, and objectivity".  In 1944, then US Vice President Henry Wallace took to writing an an article on the subject in the New York Times titled The Danger of American Fascism

Part 5, Deception as Policy, addresses the brass tacks necessity of a rational inquiry into domestic surveillance and what is actually going on.


* Sheldon Wolin in 2003 on  Inverted Totalitarianism: "[T]he elements are in place: a weak legislative body, a legal system that is both compliant and repressive, a party system in which one party, whether in opposition or in the majority, is bent upon reconstituting the existing system so as to permanently favor a ruling class of the wealthy, the well-connected, and the corporate, while leaving the poorer citizens with a sense of helplessness and political despair, and, at the same time, keeping the middle classes dangling between fear of unemployment and expectations of fantastic rewards once the new economy recovers.  

"That scheme is abetted by a sycophantic and increasingly concentrated media; by the integration of universities with their corporate benefactors; by a propaganda machine institutionalized in well-funded think tanks and conservative foundations; by the increasingly closer cooperation between local police and national law enforcement agencies aimed at identifying terrorists, suspicious aliens, and domestic dissidents."

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