America's Total Surveillance Society

Stephen Lendman

In 2003, an ACLU report warned that "Big Brother" no longer is fiction, America having advanced to where total surveillance is now possible. Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program said:

"Given the capabilities of today's technology, the only thing protecting us from a full-fledged surveillance society are the legal and political institutions we have inherited as Americans. Unfortunately, the September 11 attacks have led some to embrace the fallacy that weakening the Constitution will strengthen America."

As a result, civil liberties fast eroded. In 2007, another ACLU report warned about America being six minutes to midnight "as a surveillance society draws near...." Powerful new technologies potentially make total monitoring possible under a president, a compliant Congress and courts that believe national security takes precedence over constitutional freedoms.

As a result, "we confront the possibility of a dark future where our every move," transaction, and communication is "recorded, compiled, and stored away" for ready access for whatever authorities may want.

One of several earlier articles on institutionalized spying can be accessed through this link.

It reviewed undiscussed police state tools used without congressional authorization, oversight, or legal standing - state-of-the-art technology, including satellite imagery, to spy on unsuspecting Americans.

In his article titled, "Creating the Domestic Surveillance State," Alfred McCoy explained that Obama embraced the same executive powers as Bush, including NSA surveillance, CIA renditions, drone assassinations, indefinite military detentions, and more - virtual lawlessness across the board. As a result, constitutional Law Professor Jack Balkin believes bipartisan affirmation of unchecked executive powers could "reverberate for generations," subverting constitutional freedoms.

As concerned, McCoy said Americans are largely unaware of the "war on terror" toll on their rights.

"Think of our counterinsurgency wars abroad as so many living laboratories for the undermining of a democratic society at home, a process historians (say) has been going on for a long, long time."

In his book titled, "Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State," McCoy chronicled over a century of US imperialism from the 1899 - 1902 Philippines conquest to the present.

As a result, America developed a coercive policing, intelligence, and surveillance apparatus to ensure absolute imperial domination, using covert infiltration and violence to curb all remnants of resistance.

Repressive tactics now include a state-of-the-art coercive national security/surveillance/counterintelligence apparatus. Established in the Philippines, it was used:

during the 1920s Red Scare;
for mass WW II incarceration of Japanese Americans;
during post-war McCarthy witch-hunts and secret blacklisting of suspected communists; and
for many decades against human rights, labor, anti-war and civil liberties activists.

Other techniques include:

psychological warfare;
targeted or sweeping assassinations;
death squads killing thousands from Korea to Southeast Asia, Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and dozens of other countries covertly and overtly on the ground and overhead by drones and attack aircraft;
FBI subversion from red-baiting to COINTELPRO to later tactics to disrupt, sabotage and neutralize dissent by surveillance, political repression, infiltration, disinformation, assassinations, and denigration of targeted individuals or groups; and
sophisticated forms of intelligence, subversion and violence throughout the Cold War and thereafter, especially post-9/11 in the war on terror.

McCoy's book exposed imperial America's dark side, a shadowy public/private world of repressive policing, sophisticated surveillance, active informers, counterintelligence, secret agents, and state terror, undermining human rights, civil liberties, and democratic freedoms at home and abroad. It proved Mark Twain right saying you can't have an overseas empire and democracy at home.

From 1898, America developed an invasive internal security blueprint, more sophisticated than ever today. Today's global war on terror developed a "technological template, (including) omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nono-second biometric identification," global drone patrols, killer drones, satellite surveillance, and other forms of sophisticated lawless spying, intelligence, subversion, disruption, and destruction of constitutional freedoms.

McCoy said America's war on terror involves a "massive expansion of (FBI, NSA, Pentagon, and CIA) data-mining systems, (amassing billions of) private documents (on) US citizens" kept in classified data banks.

"Abroad, after years of failing counterinsurgency efforts in the Middle East, the Pentagon began applying biometrics - the science of identification via facial shape, fingerprints, and retinal or iris patterns - to the pacification of Iraqi cities, as well as....electronic intercepts for instant intelligence and split-second" satellite imagery use to aid drone assassinations from Africa to South Asia to perhaps America after a future homeland attack.

Today, the combination of biometric identification, global surveillance, and digital warfare makes counterinsurgency more sophisticated than ever. With everyone in a database, authorities can get instantaneous feedback from iris, retinal, or other data to identify, target, arrest or kill.

In Iraq under General Stanley McChrystal, "every tool available....from signal intercepts to human intelligence (was employed for) lightening quick strikes." The same technology is used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, dozens of other countries, and perhaps soon, if not already, in communities across America.

McCoy explained:

"While those running US combat operations overseas were experimenting with intercepts, satellites, drones, and biometrics, inside Washington....FBI and NSA (operatives) began expanding domestic surveillance through thoroughly conventional data sweeps, legal and extra-legal, and - with White House help - several abortive attempts to revive a tradition that dates back to World War I of citizens spying on suspected subversives."

In 2002, Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) was launched to have "millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees and others" snitch on other Americans.

At the same time, the Pentagon developed a Total Information Awareness program with "detailed electronic dossiers" on millions of unsuspecting Americans. Public outrage got Congress to ban it, but the NSA, CIA and FBI continued it, monitoring Americans electronically, including private email and phone communications as well as access to financial, medical and other personal information.

In 2004, the FBI established an Investigative Data Warehouse "centralized (counterterrorism) repository," and in two years amassed 659 million individual records, now perhaps double that amount. It includes social security data, drivers' licenses, financial records, and virtually any information considered important to monitor - potentially making everyone's private life an open book to know about and abuse, including by warrantless wiretaps and other lawless methods.

Since taking office, Obama advanced the Bush agenda, endangering Americans more than ever under surveillance. For example, the FBI's "Terrorist Watchlist" adds 1,600 names daily to hundreds of thousands already included. A new Lackland Air Base cyber-command is charged with targeting enemy computers and repelling hostile cyber-attacks against US networks. Official denials notwithstanding, no one escapes surveillance.

The combined intelligence/Homeland Security/US Northern Command (NORTHCOM)/local authorities apparatus constitutes a formidable force against civil unrest, mass protests, designated terrorists, dissidents, and other perceived homeland threats - their combined might and sophisticated technology charged with containing them. Already, constitutional freedoms have been seriously compromised on their way toward total abolition.

Moreover, "presidential power has grown relentlessly" after Bush claimed "unitary Executive" authority, what Chalmers Johnson called a "ball-faced assertion of presidential supremacy dressed up in legal mumbo jumbo," but it persists under Obama to rule by Executive Orders and other unilateral directives, unchecked by congressional approval.

McCoy said it "open(ed) the way to unchecked electronic (satellite, drone, biometric, and other type) surveillance, the endless detention of (uncharged) terror suspects (including US citizens), and a variety of inhumane forms of interrogation" after Bush made torture official US policy. It continues seamlessly, though quietly, under Obama more than ever hardening America's police state apparatus.

Big Brother now watches everyone, including with growing numbers of digital cameras monitoring streets, commercial areas, airports, highways, public and private transportation, government and office buildings, and shopping malls - virtually everywhere people congregate, work, reside, recreate, or inhabit for any reason. Anti-terrorist SWAT teams are ready to react against any suspected provocation or threat.

As a result, American democracy fundamentally changed. Always more illusion than reality, total surveillance reveals a harshness too ugly to hide, especially when sophisticated technologies target anyone for any reason, what McCoy calls "the stuff of dystopian science fiction."

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Stephen Lendman: I was born in 1934 in Boston, MA. Raised in a modest middle class family, attended public schools, received a BA from Harvard University in 1956 and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of PA in 1960 following 2 years of obligatory military service in the US Army. Spent the next 6 years as a marketing research analyst for several large US corporations before becoming part of a new small family business in 1967, remaining there until retiring at the end of 1999. Have since devoted my time and efforts to the progressive causes and organizations I support, all involved in working for a more humane and just world for all people everywhere, but especially for the most needy, disadvantaged and oppressed. My efforts since summer 2005 have included writing on a broad range of vital topics ranging from war and peace; social, economic and political equity for all; and justice for all the oppressed peoples of the world like the long-suffering people of Haiti and the Palestinians. Also co-hosting The Global Research News Hour, occasional public talks, and frequent appearances on radio and at times television.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.
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Photo: smith (flickr)
URL: http://www.a-w-i-p.com/index.php/2011/02/27/america-s-total-surveillance-society

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