The horrific massacre in Orlando has once again thrust the specter of domestic terrorism into the limelight, and into the media space. Pundits and politicians alike have taken the incident as yet another opportunity to thump their chests about the need for even more counter-terrorism legislation, a further increase in surveillance state activity and, of course, more war abroad.
And while such opportunists posture as defenders of the American people, none care to face the inescapable reality that since 9-11, and the introduction of numerous pieces of draconian legislation ostensibly aimed at combatting terrorism, the agencies charged with surveillance and law enforcement have not managed to prevent attacks. Obviously, this raises the question of what exactly legislation such as the PATRIOT Act is really intended for if not to ‘keep Americans safe.’
But even more critical than retrospective criticism of the erosion of civil liberties after nearly a decade and a half of propaganda and fearmongering, is the need to oppose the further expansion of such legislation and domestic spying programs. Indeed, while what were once considered rights are now seen as passé, the US is staring down the barrel of a presidential election where the leading candidates are calling for even more surveillance, expanded government databases, and more billions of dollars to be poured into the NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, and the rest of the alphabet soup that comprises Police State USA.
Clinton, Trump, and Death as Political Currency
In the immediate aftermath of the heinous slaughter in Orlando, the neoconservative-neoliberal chimera known as Hillary Clinton predictably called for an expansion of surveillance and the police state. Less than 48 hours after the attack, in a speech in Cleveland, Clinton proclaimed:
We already know we need more resources for this fight. The professionals who keep us safe would be the first to say we need better intelligence to discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out. That’s why I’ve proposed an ‘intelligence surge’ to bolster our capabilities across the board, with appropriate safeguards here at home.
As with all things Hillary, one must carefully deconstruct the statement to unravel the distortions and empty rhetoric, and distill her actual proposal. The first part of her statement is instantly suspect as the US has already grossly inflated its intelligence budget. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the 2017 intelligence budget will reach nearly $70 billion, with $50 billion being spent on the National Intelligence Program (NIP). One would have to seriously question the logic in Clinton’s statement, namely the implied consensus about the need for more resources. How much more exactly will prevent incidents like the one in Orlando? Perhaps another $50 billion would do the trick?
The second fallacy embedded in the torrent of misinformation that is a Hillary Clinton speech excerpt is the specious argument that “better intelligence” would “discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out.” This vacuous statement must be dismissed out of hand after one considers the fact that the alleged Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, was investigated, followed, and interviewed by the FBI multiple times (he was also introduced to FBI informants whose responsibility was likely to keep tabs on him).
So, according to Clinton the US should spend tens of billions more dollars to fund the agencies and programs that already have the ability to single out a potential terrorist, do all the leg work to establish contact with him, invest human resources into his case, and yet still be unable to stop his alleged actions. To put it in terms Hillary’s Wall Street patrons would understand: sounds like a bad investment strategy.
The third unmistakably wrongheaded statement (I only selected three sentences, so she’s 3 for 3) is the absolutely odious suggestion of an “intelligence surge” to improve the capabilities of the intelligence community. In fact, what Clinton is actually suggesting is a massive increase in contracts awarded to private intelligence firms and military contractors, though veiling it as a boost to the intelligence community. This fact is made clear by the renowned investigative journalist Tim Shorrock in his 2008 book Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing where he notes that:
In 2006… the cost of America’s spying and surveillance activities outsourced to contractors reached $42 billion, or about 70 percent of the estimated $60 billion the government spends every year on foreign and domestic intelligence. Unfortunately, we cannot know the true extent of outsourcing, for two reasons. First, in 2007, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) refused to release an internal report on contracting out of fear that its disclosure would harm U.S. national security interests. Second, most intelligence contracts are classified, allowing companies like CACI to hide their activities behind a veil of secrecy.
Think about that figure for a second: 70 percent of the intelligence budget goes to outsourcing. In other words, government expenditure on surveillance and intelligence is an indirect subsidy to private corporations. This should come as no surprise considering similar indirect subsidies to energy companies, private mercenaries, and even big retail corporations.
Of course, Clinton knows all this perfectly well. So when she calls for an intelligence surge what she’s actually doing is making clear to her military-industrial-surveillance complex cronies that she will make sure to feed the goose that continues to lay the golden eggs. Just like her speeches to Goldman Sachs served to reassure Wall Street that she was their lady, so too does Clinton use the tragic events in Orlando to give a wink and a nod to Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI International, and the rest.
As with all things Clinton, her words drip with cynicism like her hands drip with the blood of Libyans, Syrians, Iraqis, Serbians, and countless others.
It should be mentioned too that aside from just funding, Clinton undoubtedly represents a further rightward shift in terms of “anti-terror” legislation – the kinds of bills that she’d promote and sign into law as president would be, to put it bluntly, no different than the Bush era bills that she supported such as the PATRIOT Act. As Conor Friedersdorf noted in The Atlantic in 2015:
[Clinton] served in the United States Senate from 2001 to 2009. She cast votes that enabled the very NSA spying that many now regard as a betrayal. And she knew all about what the NSA wasn’t telling the public. To say now that the NSA should’ve been more transparent raises this question: Why wasn’t Clinton among the Democrats working for more transparency?
Friedersdorf is being much too kind with his concluding rhetorical question. Clinton is perhaps one of the most hawkish surveillance state proponents in the US. Her total disregard for even the basic tenets of the US Constitution, let alone domestic or international law, make her not only unfit for office, but a dangerous criminal.
And then of course there’s the trainwreck made flesh, Donald Trump, who with his typically bombastic and utterly vacuous public statements has once again managed to make the criminal Hillary into the “sensible one.” In a speech on Monday June 13, Trump reverted to his usual racist demagogy that is light on actual policy prescriptions and heavy on xenophobia, racism, and outright lies. But in the midst of the Trump madness, there are indeed kernels of policy that should be worrying.
During the speech Trump called, once again, for a ban on Muslim immigration to the US, warning of “major consequences” for the Muslim community in the country. But Trump went further saying, “We have a dysfunctional immigration system, which does not permit us to know who we let into our country, and it does not permit us to protect our citizens properly.” Again, Trump provides no specific policy prescription, but the implication from his statement is an increase in surveillance of citizens domestically, as well as presumably the codification of a deeply racist immigration system which would discriminate based on religion and/or ethnicity.
Trump continued, saying “With these people, folks, it’s coming. We’re importing radical Islamic terrorism into the West through a failed immigration system and through an intelligence community held back by our president.” Here again Trump aligns with Clinton. While supposedly the two are opposed to one another, the fact is that both accept the false assumption that our problems would be solved if only we could just stop “holding back” the intelligence community. Clinton calls for a surge while Trump calls for taking off the training wheels. Sort of like an argument about which is better Pepsi or orange juice.
The Police State Is Not the Answer
While the Demopublican-Republicrat Party continues its political posturing, the assumptions that both have internalized are what need to be excised from the body politic. It is patently absurd to call for more surveillance in a country where, thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know the following:
* The PRISM program allows “The National Security Agency and the FBI [to tap] directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents, and connection logs.” According to cybersecurity experts PRISM uses obviously illegal tactics to “circumvent formal legal processes…to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos.”
* The BLARNEY system is utilized extensively. According to former AT&T technician Mark Klein and former Senior Advisor for Internet Technology at the FCC Scott Marcus, “Using a device called a ‘splitter’ a complete copy of the internet traffic that AT&T receives…is diverted onto a separate fiber-optic cable which is connected to a room which is controlled by the NSA.” Therefore, unlike PRISM, which the government and its apologists attempt to justify as being used to target key individuals, BLARNEY has no such capacity. Rather, it is designed solely to collect data, all internet data, to be used and likely stored.
* The NSA has constructed enormous data storage facilities such as the Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah.As one top security official told Wired, “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”
Naturally, there is not nearly enough space here to detail all of the myriad surveillance programs. But, taking them together with what we know of government funding to private intelligence firms, how could anyone rightly argue that surveillance should be increased? If anything, the enormous expenditure has proven utterly useless.
Indeed, the legal framework developed in the post-9/11 era including draconian legislation such as the PATRIOT Act, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and many others, laid the foundation for the systemic and systematic stripping away of civil liberties and human rights. The technical infrastructure has been steadily evolving since 9/11 as technology continues to improve, providing the intelligence agencies with ever more tools for surveillance and intelligence gathering. The continued, unrestrained neoliberal policy of privatization has created a complex network of companies, contractors, and subcontractors, usually working independently of each other, all in the service of the security state. Finally, the political landscape in the United States has so thoroughly devolved that elected officials are more concerned about stopping the whistleblowers and leakers, than about addressing America’s continued descent into a fascist police state.
Such is the state of the union in 2016. And while the aspiring Mass Murderer-in-Chief Clinton continues to attack the political snake-charmer Trump, and The Donald does what The Donald does, the bodies of 50 innocent people are being laid to rest. Must the values and freedoms that the US allegedly once stood for also be buried?