Fiddler over Flames Truthout.org
By John W. Whitehead
September 30, 2013
Like clockwork, we’ve ticked back to the annual government shutdown scare that invariably dominates news headlines and sends stocks seesawing for a few scant weeks until, at the very last moment, the nation is miraculously pulled from the brink of disaster. It’s always an entertaining show, with both Republicans and Democrats doing their best to one-up each other with heartbreaking anecdotes about the millions who will suffer in the event of a government shutdown and showy bravado over the need for greater fiscal stewardship, while conveniently failing to rein in two of the biggest drains on our budget—namely, the military and surveillance industrial complexes.
Indeed, while a government shutdown will inevitably impact everything from Head Start, and key welfare services to national museums and IRS audits, the one area not impacted in the least will be the police/surveillance state and its various militarized agencies, spying programs and personnel. Incredibly, although more than 800,000 government workers could find themselves without paychecks or with reduced (or for members of the military, delayed) paychecks, President Obama and Congress will still get paid on time.
Take a look at the programs and policies that will not be affected by a government shutdown, and you’ll get a clearer sense of the government’s priorities—priorities which, as I point out in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, have little to do with serving taxpayers and everything to do with maintaining power and control, while being sold to the public under the guise of national security.
Domestic surveillance. On any given day, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. Police have been outfitted with a litany of surveillance gear, from license plate readers and cell phone tracking devices to biometric data recorders. Technology now makes it possible for the police to scan passersby in order to detect the contents of their pockets, purses, briefcases, etc. Full-body scanners, which perform virtual strip-searches of Americans traveling by plane, have gone mobile, with roving police vans that peer into vehicles and buildings alike—including homes. Coupled with the nation’s growing network of real-time surveillance cameras and facial recognition software, soon there really will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
NSA domestic programs. Government shutdown or not, the National Security Agency (NSA), with its $10.8 billion black ops annual budget, will continue to spy on every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone using programs such as PRISM and XKEYSCORE. By cracking the security of all major smartphones, including iPhone, Android, and Blackberry devices, NSA agents harvest such information as contacts, text messages, and location data. And then there are the NSA agents who will continue to use and abuse their surveillance powers for personal means, to spy on girlfriends, lovers and first dates.
Surveillance: America’s Pastime Truthout.org
Global spying. The NSA’s massive surveillance network, what the Washington Post refers to as a $500 billion “espionage empire,” will continue to span the globe and target every single person on the planet who uses a phone or a computer. The NSA’s Echelon program intercepts and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax and email message sent anywhere in the world. In addition to carrying out domestic surveillance on peaceful political groups such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and several religious groups, Echelon has also been a keystone to the government’s attempts at political and corporate espionage.
Roving TSA searches. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. Indeed, one of the greatest culprits when it comes to swindling taxpayers has been the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), with its questionable deployment of and complete mismanagement of millions of dollars’ worth of airport full-body, X-ray scanners, punitive patdowns by TSA agents and thefts of travelers’ valuables. Considered essential to national security, TSA programs will continue, not only in airports but at transportation hubs around the country.
VIPR Strikes. Under the pretext of protecting the nation’s infrastructure (roads, mass transit systems, water and power supplies, telecommunications systems and so on) against criminal or terrorist attacks, VIPR task forces (comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams) will continue to do random security sweeps of nexuses of transportation, including ports, railway and bus stations, airports, ferries and subways. VIPR teams will also be deployed to elevate the security presence at certain special events such as political conventions, baseball games and music concerts. Sweep tactics include the use of x-ray technology, pat-downs and drug-sniffing dogs, among other things.
USA Patriot Act, NDAA. America’s so-called war on terror, which it has relentlessly pursued since 9/11, has chipped away at our freedoms, unraveled our Constitution and transformed our nation into a battlefield, thanks in large part to such subversive legislation as the USA Patriot Act and National Defense Authorization Act. These laws—which completely circumvent the rule of law and the constitutional rights of American citizens, re-orienting our legal landscape in such a way as to ensure that martial law, rather than the rule of law, our U.S. Constitution, becomes the map by which we navigate life in the United States—will continue to be enforced.
Militarized police state. Thanks to federal grant programs allowing the Pentagon to transfer surplus military supplies and weapons to local law enforcement agencies without charge, police forces will continue to be transformed from peace officers into heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks and weaponized drones. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace, will continue to keep the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens. Just recently, the Dept. of Justice—clearly not suffering from a shortage of funds—approved grants totaling $3.2 million to fund law enforcement jobs and expand community policy, and that’s just in Virginia.
With all of the talk regarding today’s mislead ‘government shutdown’, there is little talk about how the NSA and TSA will continue to operate. There is even less talk about the fact that these agencies, which exist to destroy privacy, are really responsible for draining our taxpayer dollars.
Just consider one of the latest NSA scandals where taxpayer dollars were used to fund the jealous and perverted spying on women. A National Security Agency employee used the organization’s surveillance tools to intercept the phone calls of nine women and spy on his lover. That case was simply the most brazen incident of abuses of power by NSA employees.
The truly disturbing thing is that the abuse was only uncovered when the unidentified employee’s girlfriend became suspicious that she was being spied upon and alerted NSA officials. NSA officials apparently didn’t realize that one of their operatives was abusing surveillance technology in such a blatant manner, a report on the subject indicates.
The incidents occurred between 1998 and 2003, the NSA’s Inspector General Dr. George Ellard stated in a letter to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The letter was written in response to questions raised after a comment by NSA Director General Keith Alexander. The letter doesn’t state what happens to the peeping Tom agent.