Last week, Homeland Security approved a program “giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers,” as Joby Warrick reported in the Washington Post.
That’s nice, we think. The CIA can use all the help it can get. Oh, did we mention the “cloud cover” is the skies of America and the buildings are your homes and offices?
Ostensibly, this measure is designed to meet a range of threats, from illegal immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires. But, in fact, it adds insult to the injury of Congress’s recent passage of yet more FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) amendments. These empower the federal government to “trap and trace” our phone calls of Americans, lay bare our business records, and even strip-search our persons.
Warrick quotes Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies: “They want to turn these enormous spy capabilities, built to be used against overseas enemies, onto Americans. . . . They are laying the bricks one at a time for a police state.”
We can trot out all the “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” talk that we want. But we might as well save our breath. It’s true that Senator Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were blindsided by an onslaught of emails protesting their dispiriting capitulation on the FISA vote. However, domestic surveillance succeeds all too well at flying under the public’s radar.
Worse, to many of us, 24/7 surveillance is not a problem. Accustomed to the pervasive use of video cameras in stores and on the street, we ask, what’s another unobtrusive form of monitoring? If we haven’t done anything wrong, where’s the harm?
But we’re just as susceptible as Dick Cheney to his “one percent doctrine” (if there’s just a one percent chance of terrorists obtaining a WMD. . .). Of course, no one we know has been rounded up. Maybe that’s because almost none of us are remotely implicated with terrorist plots.
That phone, email and heavenly surveillance weren’t instituted to head terrorism off at the pass is an open secret. To provide historical perspective, from 1956 to 1971, the FBI operated COINTELPRO — the Counter Intelligence Program. (If that sounds to you like a program that runs counter to any sane individual’s idea of intelligence, award yourself 10 points for spotting the unintended irony.)
Incorporating not only infiltration, but instigation, into its investigative procedures, COINTELPRO was a heavy-handed (note restraint author exhibits in refraining from use of term “Iron Fist”) program for dealing with domestic insurrection.
But, while today there have been about 60 hate-group terror plots uncovered since the Oklahoma City bombing, there are no threats to the government from the left like there were in the sixties. When there were a grand total of two — the Symbionese Liberation Army, which kidnapped Patty Hearst, and the Weather Underground, which pulled off the Brinks robbery.
What warrants measures as all-encompassing as these today? ANSWER? United for Peace & Justice? Anti-globalization anarchists? MoveOn? Wait, it’s those insidious bloggers, isn’t it? Hiding handguns under their pajamas, they’re truly sleeper cells.
But even at the farthest outposts of the Internet, few calls for violent overthrow of the government appear. Apparently, Americans have internalized the old saw that discretion is the better part of valor.
As for college students, traditionally in the vanguard of armed opposition, there’s no need to be discreet because their valor is in a state of arrested development. It’s tough to fault them, though, because many are just trying to put themselves through college and then pay off school loans.
We’ll leave off the part about their preoccupation with their iTunes, iPhones and iLives because that’s kicking them when they’re down. Besides, the point is: What does the administration need with a police state when American citizens already police themselves?
But it’s not a clear and present danger that the administration is afraid of.
What if, with or without Congress and the UN’s approval, it launches an attack on Iran? Not only would reprisal against our troops in Iraq, as well as on our shores, be likely, but disruptions in the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf are sure to ensue too.
Should Depression-level unemployment result, Americans, instead of feeling ashamed to call themselves working-class like today, could soon find themselves embracing that label again. Organizing and resistance might follow. Furthermore, should a WMD attack directly attributable to the administration’s stick-in-a-hornet’s-nest foreign policies occur, the social fabric could tear apart.
As libertarian author James Bovard writes: “If there are new terror attacks at home [is] there any reason to expect that [they] would not quickly result in attempts to proclaim de facto martial law?” In other words, Bush & Co.’s all-surveillance all the time program is designed to keep future resistance and chaos at arm’s length.
Even if the next president isn’t Republican, she — I mean he or she — may emerge from that sector of the Democratic party that prefers business as usual: accepting campaign contributions from corporations and wheeling and dealing with lobbyists. In other words, whoever the next president is may find that the apparatus the present administration has instituted is to his or her liking.
By failing to set up the next Republican president like a pool shot does another, it might seem like Bush & Co. are demonstrating complete contempt for their own party. But, by bulking up the executive branch on steroids, they are ensuring that even if a Democratic president chooses to flex those muscles, well, it’s the same difference.
Simply by dint of wielding this inflated might, an administration, whether Republican or Democrat, demonstrates its true raison d’etre. America will be made safe for the super-rich, whose dream of finally making a clean break with us rabble will finally come true.