What Actually Keeps Americans Safe: Liberty

Originally posted at TomDispatch.

Since 9/11, untold sums of money have gone into building up the national security
state. That includes new billion-dollar-plus
headquarters for some of its agencies, hiring
outside contractors by the bushelful, and creating a system
of global surveillance
the likes of which would once have been inconceivable
even for the rulers of totalitarian states. It includes the National Security
Agency constructing in Georgia “the world’s largest listening post”
focused only on the Middle East. James Bamford describes
it as a “$286 million, 604,000-square-foot facility [that] has more than
2,500 workstations and 47 conference rooms, and… employs more than 4,000 eavesdroppers
and other personnel.” And don’t forget the facility it constructed
in Bluffdale, Utah, a “$2 billion, 1-million-square-foot complex… to
function as the centerpiece of the NSA’s global eavesdropping operations”
into which “would flow streams of emails, text messages, tweets, Google searches,
financial records, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, metadata, and telephone chatter
picked up by the constellation of” America’s satellites, cable taps, and listening
posts. The national security state now houses 16
major intelligence outfits
, not including the office of the director of
national intelligence, and boasts an intelligence black budget of close to $70
billion
a year. And that’s just to begin what would be an endless
list.

And all of this has essentially been built and expanded on the basis of a single
“threat” to the American way of life: terrorism, which means, of
course, the terrorism of Islamic extremists, which in the U.S. means the terrorism
of unhinged or disturbed individuals who feel deeply aggrieved by and at odds
with this society and come, however briefly, to identify with ISIS and its brutal
mission, and – to add yet another element to this mix – have remarkably easy
access to military-style
weaponry
and ammo galore.

In other words, without Islamic terrorism, which has been responsible for the
deaths of a surprisingly modest
number
of American civilians in these years, the national security state,
now the fourth
branch
of government, would be a far less impressive, less well-funded structure,
and its various experiments in governmental overreach, whether in the realms
of torture,
detention,
kidnapping,
assassination,
the militarization
of the police, or surveillance, would have been far less possible. Put
another way, that state within a state is joined at the hip to terrorism.
And yet here’s the strange thing: given the nature of the terrorist threat,
no matter how many people it surveils or what kinds of communications it listens
in on, no matter the drones
in the air or the cameras

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