America is in trouble. Its people have never been more supine in the face of, complicit in, indifferent to, the criminality of its policies, both foreign and domestic, yet this does not sufficiently seem to reassure its ruling groups, albeit, not a unified ruling class, but reasonably cohesive as drawn from financial elites, upper industrial and business circles, selected political and military officials, and any of the superrich I may have slighted. There is surprising unanimity at the top, corresponding in degree to the acquiescent in the middle and bottom ranks of society. Of course, radicals don’t like to hear that, but looking at the dimensions of social control, hidden as well as overt, in America, and from that plateau, the commission of war crimes on a steady basis in foreign affairs, one perhaps reluctantly has to admit truth will out: the fascistization of US society is moving right along, if not indeed nearing completion. Yet not to worry, it’s hardly noticeable, what I refer to as its soft-core expression, generally and more effectively under liberal auspices.
You don’t need the more familiar concentration camp and gas chamber to subjugate a people. Heavy-handed intrusion into their lives combined with their own self-policing of word and deed as the desired consequence, usually is enough. For the object is the security/maintenance and expansion of monopoly capitalism free from blemish (i.e., internal criticism and foreign obstacles). There are infinite gradations of terrorization, the thin line from soft-core to hard-core manifestations of fascism often being hard to determine, especially since they in fact form a continuum and feed on each other. History, culture, and political institutions are often complicating factors, although at bottom terror, real or disguised, is held to be essential as the instrument of choice in reducing people into submission to Authority. Order is the operative term in characterizing fascist structure, ideology, and mental-set.
Recognize anything familiar, yet? If, as in America, society is doing its job, the answer should be, No—the point of submission is to wrap it in the flag of DEMOCRACY. Lead the people to diversions, whether football, the stock market, fashion and sexual gratification, but not critical thinking, not the exposure of hegemonic planning and practice, the absence of political choice, the never-ceasing processes of wealth concentration and industrial-financial-commercial consolidation. Keep the people off-balance; purge their ranks of dissent. Starting to seem more familiar, fascism as a somewhat painless process (the Nazis had the motto, “Strength through Joy”) provided you have a scapegoat to unify the people?
Fascism requires an Enemy, even if one has to be manufactured, is fictional, does not exist, or, through government policy and activity, in this case, eavesdropping, broadly conceived to include all modes of breaking down the walls and protections of privacy, is simply implied. For why else would government go to so much trouble if there wasn’t an enemy somewhere out there? Confirmation of subversion because of the effort to track it—hence government can do no wrong. Fascism is not a function of technological advancement, the latter merely a facilitator through more advanced means of creating and disseminating propaganda—as well as the instruments of less gentle social control. With this brief sketch, let’s turn to two items coming to my attention in the last 24 hours, what I might term, archetypal straws in the wind illustrative of a fundamental structural-ideological pattern: one, collective in reach, the other, applying to an individual (which may apply to many more, but who are less resourceful in the discovery of the intrusion on privacy).
We all know, or thought we did, the scope, prevalence, and depth of USG surveillance on the American public. This is the Age of Snowden, by all rights our national hero, who fleshed out the NSA program of massive surveillance. Too, we know the infamous character of the FISA Court, which has never met a request for eavesdropping it didn’t honor. NSA/FISA alone, were there nothing more, would confirm America, and especially Obama, as the enemy of Civil Liberties, having achieved nonpareil domestic and foreign spying the envy of every dystopian writer. But important though it be, we have focused so much attention on NSA as to think, okay, we have a step up on addressing the official internal espionage on all Americans, when actually the problem is larger—perhaps the CIA and FBI, but also the less well-known Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), finally, largely because of the NSA disclosures, then coming into view, but SURPRISE, at least to me, we now have the United States Postal Service performing yeoman service in spying on Americans. Things are getting too close for comfort, nothing more apple pie than USPS with its quaint little right-hand drive, white-painted modified go-carts and the smiling men and women who sell us stamps and deliver our mail. Nothing more American than that, as hard to imagine as though the girl scouts were complicit in selling poisoned cookies (fortunately not the case).
Postal clerks and mailpersons, all is forgiven—policy is set considerably higher up. Who knew what goes on in the bowels of a massive organization (to wit, the Postal Inspection Service, and the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program)? New York Times reporter Ron Nixon’s article, “Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.,” (Oct. 27), confirms the existence of a new luminary on the government spying front, or rather one previously undetected, until last June, when Politico first published the contents of the USPS audit containing valuable information. Nixon begins: “In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.” That takes in a wide field. “The number of requests,” he points out, “shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.”
The program as revealed by the audit (NYT gained access through the Freedom of Information Act and also conducted interviews) shows that it “has played an important role in the nation’s vast surveillance effort” since 9/11, that, nevertheless, “in many cases the Postal Service approved requests to monitor an individual’s mail without adequately describing the reason or having proper written authorization.” I call this the FISA-effect. There is also sloppiness (probably bringing in more suspects): “In addition to raising privacy concerns, the audit questioned the efficiency and accuracy of the Postal Service in handling the requests…. [C]omputer errors caused the same tracking number to be assigned to different surveillance requests.” Transparency in government? “The audit was posted in May without public announcement on the website of the Postal Service inspector general and got almost no attention.”
The sanctity of the mail-delivery process is so comforting, as e.g.: “At the request of state or federal law enforcement agencies or the Postal Inspection Service, postal workers record names, return addresses and other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home,” which “provides a wealth of information”—and the caveat in parentheses, “(Opening the mail requires a warrant),” as though having come this far, scrupulosity now reigns supreme. In tabulating the number of requests from 2001-2012, The Times found that the average (8,000) was well below that of 2013 (50,000). I invite one’s own reading of the data, yet surely Obama’s prosecutorial zeal should be factored in. My favorite example of USPS surveillance, however, is “a program called Mail Imaging, in which its computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail sent in the United States.” The presumed purpose is “to process the mail,” although as “a surveillance system” it is not without merit. Safeguards? “Defense lawyers say the secrecy concerning the surveillance makes it hard to track abuses in the program because most people are not aware they are being monitored.”
Civil liberties, anyone? Massive surveillance, in the last analysis, affects individuals, not an amorphous mass, in this case, a former CBS news correspondent who apparently was coming too close for comfort in her reporting on Benghazi. (I assume, judging from the tactics employed and expertise involved, that NSA was involved. Apologies if I’m mistaken.) Here Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple’s article, “Sharyl Attkisson’s computer intrusions: ‘Worse than anything Nixon ever did,’” (Oct. 27), conveys what I wanted to say above, namely, that Obama, in the violation of civil liberties, is in a class of his own. Nixon, even Joe McCarthy, essentially were novices in this all-court (i.e., many-sided) press. Disclosure: I haven’t read her book yet, which was just released—superbly titled, “Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington”—but there is sufficient material for necessary background on the problem in Wemple’s article. Rather than treat with ages’-old violations of civil liberties, here is Obama unadorned, which must include DOJ and his national-security team.
“The intrusions into her… computers constitute the narrative spine” of the book, which “starts with not really a word, but a sound: ‘Reeeeeeeeeee.’” Wemple continues: “That’s the noise that Attkisson’s Apple computer was making at 3:14 one morning. A Toshiba laptop computer issued by CBS News did the same thing a day earlier, around 4 a.m. All this goes down in October 2012, right in the midst of the Benghazi story.” The names of friends and technical advisers are fictionalized. Jeff: “’I’ve been reading your reports online about Benghazi. It’s pretty incredible. Keep at it. But you’d better watch out.’” Things happen. Wemple: “On one level, the book is a reminder of all the ways people can mess with you.” Then Attkisson: “’[B]y November 2012, there are so many disruptions on my home phone line, I often can’t use it. I call home from my mobile phone and it rings on my end, but not at the house…. My television is misbehaving [etc],’” everything, computers, TVs, phones, “all use Verizon’s FiOS service,” and Jeff finds at the back of her house a “stray cable” attached to the FiOS box, which “could be used to download data.”
Then her computer, inspected by a person she calls “Number One,” who is “described as a confidential source inside the government,” and, shades of Deep Throat, together they meet at a McDonald’s, check out the surroundings, and talk. He: “’First just let me say again I’m shocked. Flabbergasted. All of us are. This is outrageous. Worse than anything Nixon ever did. I wouldn’t have believed something like this could happen in the United States of America.’” He is an expert, but one obviously sheltered. Then down to cases: the breaches in her computer come from a “’sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, or the National Security Agency (NSA).’” One intrusion, she learns from him, “was launched from the WiFi at a Ritz Carlton Hotel,” and, she comments, the “’intruders discovered my Skype account handle, stole the password, activated the audio, and made heavy use of it, presumably as a listening tool.’”
Nonattributable spyware. Why my detailed account here, especially as a technologically challenged one with less computer skill and understanding than a nine-year-old? Others may follow easily, but the point is prevalence and thoroughness of the spying, yes, the absolutist invasion of privacy which should nail Obama as anything other than a war-possessed charlatan, contemptuous of civil liberties, to the wall. “Number One” then finds “three classified documents deep inside her operating system, such that she’d never know they were even there.” Her reaction, hardly paranoidal: “Why? To frame me?” It only gets worse.
CBS engages an independent computer analyst Attkisson calls “Jerry Patel,” who “finds a massive amount of suspicious activity in the computer, including the removal of all kinds of messages.” Patel she describes as “breathing heavily. It alarms me because it alarms him and he’s not easily alarmed…. [Then he states] “’In my professional opinion, someone has accessed this box…. I see evidence that shows a deliberate and skilled attempt to clean the log files of activity.’” Most interesting, Patel declares that “intrusions of this caliber… are ‘far beyond the abilities of even the best nongovernmental hackers.’”
Patel tells CBS that “only a few entities possess these skills. One of them is the U.S. government.” Then in September 2013, “as White House officials pressure CBS News executives over Attkisson’s Benghazi reporting, something goes haywire with her computer.” She writes, “’Suddenly data in my computer file begins wiping at hyperspeed before my very eyes. Deleted line by line in a split second: it’s gone, gone, gone.’” Finally, she hires another security specialist, and in her words, “’While a great deal of data has been expertly wiped in an attempt to cover-up the deed, Don is able to find remnants of what was once there. There’s key evidence of a government computer connection to my computer. A sort of backdoor link that leads to an ISP address for a government computer that can’t be accessed by the general public on the Web. It’s an undeniable link to the U.S. government.” Soft-core fascism: you don’t need the concentration camp when other avenues of social control are open to, and have been opened by, the government. It’s gone, gone, gone, not only a computer file but perhaps in time, freedom itself.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.