That’s the title of an article by Tom Engelhardt, reproduced in the Asia Times online news magazine. He analyzes the security organs of the modern state in the light of recent revelations by Edward Snowden, and comes to some not-very-palatable conclusions. Here’s an excerpt.
Here’s my attempt to look beyond the daily drumbeat of this developing story (which, it is promised, will go on for weeks, if not months) and identify five urges essential to understanding the world Edward Snowden has helped us glimpse.
1: The urge to be global
Corporately speaking, globalization has been ballyhooed since at least the 1990s, but in governmental terms only in the 21st century has that globalizing urge fully infected the workings of the American state itself. It’s become common since 9/11 to speak of a “national security state”. But if a week of ongoing revelations about NSA surveillance practices has revealed anything, it’s that the term is already grossly outdated. Based on what we now know, we should be talking about an American global security state.
Much attention has, understandably enough, been lavished on the phone and other metadata about American citizens that the NSA is now sweeping up and about the ways in which such activities may be abrogating the First and Fourth Amendments of the US constitution. Far less attention has been paid to the ways in which the NSA (and other US intelligence outfits) are sweeping up global data in part via the just-revealed PRISM and other surveillance programs.
Sometimes, naming practices are revealing in themselves, and the National Security Agency’s key data mining tool, capable in March 2013 of gathering “97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide”, has been named “Boundless Informant”. If you want a sense of where the US intelligence community imagines itself going, you couldn’t ask for a better hint than that word “boundless”. It seems that for our spooks, there are, conceptually speaking, no limits left on this planet.
Today, that “community” seeks to put not just the US but the world fully under its penetrating gaze. By now, the first “heat map” has been published showing where such information is being sucked up from monthly: Iran tops the list (14 billion pieces of intelligence); then come Pakistan (13.5 billion), Jordan (12.7 billion), Egypt (7.6 billion), and India (6.3 billion). Whether you realize this or not, even for a superpower that has unprecedented numbers of military bases scattered across the planet and has divided the world into six military commands, this represents something new under the sun. The only question is what?
The 20th century was the century of “totalitarianisms”. We don’t yet have a name, a term, for the surveillance structures Washington is building in this century, but there can be no question that, whatever the present constraints on the system, “total” has something to do with it and that we are being ushered into a new world. Despite the recent leaks, we still undoubtedly have a very limited picture of just what the present American surveillance world really looks like and what it plans for our future. One thing is clear, however: the ambitions behind it are staggering and global.
. . .
Washington’s urge to take control of the global communications environment, lock, stock, and chat room, to gather its “data” – billions and billions of pieces of it – and via inconceivably powerful computer systems, mine and arrange it, find patterns in it, and so turn the world into a secret set of connections, represents a remarkable development.
For the first time, a great power wants to know, up close and personal, not just what its own citizens are doing, but those of distant lands as well: who they are communicating with, and how, and why, and what they are buying, and where they are traveling, and who they are bumping into (online and over the phone).
There’s much more at the link. The article is long, but immensely detailed, and well worth reading if you’d like to understand the foundations of US intelligence activities today. In that sense, it’s rather scary, because it makes Orwell‘s idea of ‘Big Brother‘ look a bit like child’s play at a Sunday school picnic. Very disturbing indeed.
The question is, what do we do about it? I know I’d like to shut it down . . . but the tentacles of the intelligence apparatus are now so deeply intertwined into every organ and vessel of government that I doubt they can be fully rooted out and eradicated. We may have gone too far down this road to recover fully from the damage it’s already done to our constitutional rights, freedoms and liberties.