FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Security State

Stratfor internal documents posted on Wikileaks reveal that Abraxas corporation — a security state contractor with close ties to the spooks at the US National Security Agency — has developed a software system networking countless public surveillance cameras with a facial recognition database.

Meanwhile, the NSA is building a gargantuan data-crunching facility — the Utah Data Center — that it expects to become operational in 2013: “Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails–parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.'”

Civil libertarian reactions to this stuff consist mainly — and quite understandably — of horror at the newly augmented power of the automated police state. In terms of the state’s intent and its legal figleaves for justifying it, this is obviously yet another step in America’s slide into full-blown security state authoritarianism a la the movie “Brazil.”

We’re living in a high-tech form of bureaucratic Caesarism with about as much relation to the US Constitution it claims to observe as the Principate had to the institutional forms of the Roman Republic. But I’m less inclined to panic over the actual capabilities of that security state — precisely because it tends to operate like something out of “Brazil.”

The main reason the main reason the security state has never managed to thwart a real terror attack with all its electronic surveillance and data-crunching capabilities (they’ve all been stopped by a combo of stupid terrorists and smart fellow passengers) is that they’re already generating too much data for their bureaucracy to process. The system drowns in the false positives it generates, and in the face of this bureaucratic information overload actually ignores (say) direct warnings from the Underwear Bomber’s dad that his crazy kid is planning to blow up a plane. I’m guessing this will make the problem of false positives a hundred times worse, replacing the haystack the needle of usable info is buried in with an entire barn full of hay.

If this “Enemy of the State” monstrosity is good for anything at all, it’s keeping track of people the regime already knows it doesn’t like for political reasons. Imagine A. Mitchell Palmer with a facial recognition database of IWW and Socialist Party members, and you get the idea. “Eugene Debs spotted at the A&P — dispatch paddy wagon immediately!” But even for this application, the actual implementation would probably be more like Information Retrieval in “Brazil.” Some database error would result in Eugene Bebs being arrested instead.

That’s my second point. Consider the typical (very cozy) relationship between military contractors, the Pentagon’s procurement bureaucracies and congressmen from the districts where weapons systems will be built. The whole system is geared to massage weapons test results and grease the skids for approval. So you get extremely expensive weapons systems, with massive cost overruns, that — when tested in actual use — come down with all sorts of unforeseen bugs that were carefully concealed during the Potemkin Village “testing regime” and don’t perform at all as advertised in the contractors’ slick brochures.

The very fact that Abraxas has such incestuous ties with the security community should be a major source of reassurance in this regard.

Because the state is the state, it seeks unlimited power and attempts to acquire that power. But because the state is the state, the things it does to augment its power will mostly be stupid. The typical post-9/11 pattern has been for agile networks like Al Qaeda, Wikileaks and Anonymous to run circles around bureaucratic dinosaurs like Homeland Security and the TSA. The security state is trying to counter the threat by making the dinosaurs bigger. We’ll see how that works out.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist and the author of Studies in Mutualist Political EconomyOrganization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. He is also the author of articles in publications including The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, includingJust Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation, and his own Mutualist Blog.

More articles by:

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail