Since ancient Rome, imperial republics have invariably
felt a tension between cherished republican practices at home and distinctly
unrepublican ones abroad; or put another way, if imperial practices spread far
enough beyond the republic's borders and gain enough traction out there in the
imperium, sooner or later they also make the reverse journey home, and then
you have a crisis in – or simply the destruction of – the republic itself.
The urge of the Bush administration to bring versions of the methods it's applying
abroad back home is already palpable; the
urge to free the President, as "commander-in-chief" in the "war on terror,"
from all the old fetters, those boring, restraining checks and balances, those
inconvenient liberties won by Americans – so constraining, so troublesome to
deal with – is equally palpable.
Back in the Watergate era, we had a would-be imperial president, Richard M.
Nixon, who provoked a constitutional crisis. Actually, it amounted to a near
constitutional coup d'état – and if you don't believe me, check out The
Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell's classic work on the subject. Now,
it seems, we're in Watergate II, but without a Democratic Congress, a critical
media, or a powerful antiwar movement (yet). All we have at the moment is the
constitutional crisis part of the equation, various simmering scandals, a catastrophic
war abroad, and an ever more powerful military-industrial-security complex at
home. And we're not just talking urges here, we're talking acts. We're talking
programs. We're talking the continual blurring of distinctions between the domestic
and the foreign, the civilian and the military, between liberties at home and
"securing the Homeland." The problem is, we can only guess at the extent of
that "securing" process because so much is clearly happening just beyond our
sight (or oversight).
Below, in the first of a two-part series, Nick Turse, who follows the military-corporate
complex regularly for Tomdispatch, offers as solid a sense as we are likely
to get right now of the outlines of the new Homeland Security State being created
within the bounds of the old republic. Let's face it, this is frightening stuff,
but too important not to read.
Bringing It All Back Home:
The Emergence of the Homeland Security State
By Nick Turse
Part I: The Military Half
If you're reading this on the Internet, the FBI
may be spying on you at this very moment.
Under provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the Department of Justice has been
collecting e-mail and IP (a computer's unique numeric identifier) addresses,
without a warrant, using trap-and-trace surveillance devices ("pen-traps").
Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Justice's principal investigative
arm, may be monitoring the web-surfacing habits of Internet users – also without
a search warrant – that is, spying on you with no probable cause whatsoever.
In the wake of September 11, 2001, with the announcement of a potentially
never-ending "war on terror" and in the name of "national security," the Bush
administration embarked on a global campaign that left in its wake two war-ravaged
states (with up to one hundred thousand civilian dead in just one of them);
an offshore "archipelago
of injustice" replete with "ghost jails" and a seemingly endless series
of cases of torture, abuse, and the cold-blooded murder of prisoners. That was
abroad. In the U.S., too, things have changed as America became "the Homeland"
and an already powerful and bloated national security state developed a civilian
corollary fed by fear-mongering, partisan politics, and an insatiable desire
for governmental power, turf, and budget.
A host of disturbing and mutually-reinforcing patterns have emerged in the
resulting new Homeland Security State – among them: a virtually unopposed increase
in the intrusion of military, intelligence, and "security" agencies into the
civilian sector of American society; federal abridgment of basic rights; denials
of civil liberties on flimsy or previously illegal premises; warrantless sneak-and-peak
searches; the wholesale undermining of privacy safeguards (including government
access to library circulation records, bank records, and records of internet
activity); the greater empowerment of secret intelligence courts (like the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act court) that threaten civil liberties; and
heavy-handed federal and local law enforcement tactics designed to chill, squelch,
or silence dissent.
While it's true that most Americans have yet to feel the brunt of such policies,
select groups, including Muslims, Arab immigrants, Arab-Americans, and antiwar
protesters, have served as test subjects for a potential Homeland Security juggernaut
that, if not stopped, will only expand.
The Military Brings It All Back Home
Over the past few years we've become familiar
with General John Abizaid's Central Command (CENTCOM) whose "areas of responsibility"
(AORs) stretch from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia, including, of course,
the Iraq war zone. Like CENTCOM, the U.S. has other commands that blanket the
rest of the world, including the Pacific Command (PACCOM, established in 1947)
and the European Command (EURCOM, established in 1952). In 2002, however, the
Pentagon broke new command ground by deciding, after a fashion, to bring war
to the Homeland. It established the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) whose AOR
is "America's homefront."
NORTHCOM is much more forthright about what it supposedly doesn't do than
what it actually does. Its website repeatedly, in many forms, notes that NORTHCOM
is not a police auxiliary and that the Reconstruction-era Posse Comitatus Act
prevents the military from meddling much in domestic affairs. Despite this,
NORTHCOM readily, if somewhat vaguely, admits to "a
cooperative relationship with federal agencies" and "information-sharing"
among organizations. NORTHCOM's commander General Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, who,
Wall Street Journal notes, is the "first general since the Civil
War with operational authority exclusively over military forces within the U.S,"
was even more blunt when he told PBS's
Newshour "[W]e are not going to be out there spying on people[, but] we
get information from people who do."
Even putting NORTHCOM aside, the military has recently been creeping into
civilian life in all sorts of ways. Back in 2003, for instance, Torch Concepts,
an Army sub-contractor, was given JetBlue's entire 5.1 million passenger database,
without the knowledge or consent of those on the list, for data-mining – a
blatant breach of civilian privacy that the Army nonetheless judged not to violate
the federal Privacy
Act. Then, in 2004, Army intelligence agents were caught illegally
investigating civilians at a conference on Islam at the University of Texas
law school in Austin.
And just recently, on the very same day the
Washington Post reported that "the Pentagon… [has] created a new
espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad," the
New York Times reported that, as part of the "extraordinary army
of 13,000 troops, police officers and federal agents marshaled to secure the
[Presidential] inauguration," the Pentagon had deployed "super-secret commandos…
with state-of-the-art weaponry" in the nation's capitol. This was done under
government directives that undercut the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. According
to the Times, the black-ops cadre, based out at the ultra-secretive Joint
Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is operating under
"a secret counterterrorism program code-named Power Geyser," a program just
recently brought to light in Code
Names, a new book by a former intelligence analyst for the Army, William
M. Arkin, who says that the "special-mission units [are being used] in extra-legal
missions…in the United States" on the authority of the Department of Defense's
Joint Staff and with the support of the DoD's Special Operations Command and
Courtesy of the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, we've known for some time
of the creation
of "a secret unit that was given advance approval to kill or capture and
interrogate 'high-value' suspects…" in the name of the War on Terror. Some of
us may have even known that since 1989, in the name of the War on Drugs, there
has been a multi-service command, (comprised of approximately 160 soldiers,
sailors, marines, airmen and Department of Defense operatives) known as Joint
Task Force Six (JTF-6), providing "support to federal, regional, state and
local law enforcement agencies throughout the continental United States." Now,
we know as well that there are an unknown number of commando squads operating
in the U.S. – in the name of the war at home. Just how many and exactly what
they may up to we cannot know for sure since spokespersons for the relevant
Army commands refuse to offer comment and Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman will
only say that "At
any given time, there are a number of classified programs across the government"
and that Power Geyser "may or may not exist."
The emergence of an American Homeland Security State has allowed the Army
to fundamentally alter its historic role, transforming what was once illegal
and then exceptional – deploying Federal troops in support of (or acting as)
civilian law enforcement agencies – into standard operating procedure. But the
Army is not alone in its homefront meddling. While the Army was thwarted in
its attempt to strong-arm University of Texas officials into releasing a videotape
of their conference on Islam, the Navy used arm-twisting to greater effect on
a domestic government agency. The Wall
Street Journal reports that, in 2003, the Office of Naval Intelligence
badgered the U.S. Customs Service to hand over its database on maritime trade.
At first, the Customs Service resisted the Navy's efforts, but in the post-9/11
atmosphere, like other agencies on the civil side of the ledger, it soon caved
to military pressure. In an ingenuous message sent to the Wall Street Journal,
the commissioner of the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Customs
and Border Protection, Robert C. Bonner, excused handing over the civilian database
by stating that he had received "Navy assurances that the information won't
While the Army, Navy, and NORTHCOM naturally profess to having no nefarious
intent in their recent civil-side forays, history suggests wariness on the subject.
After all, the pre-Homeland-Security military already had a long history of
illegal activity and illegal domestic spying (much of which came to light in
the late 1960s and early 1970s) – and never suffered social stigma, let alone
effectual legal or institutional consequences for its repeated transgressions.
NORTHCOM now proudly claims that it has "a
cooperative relationship with federal agencies working to prevent terrorism."
So you might wonder: Just which other "federal agencies" does NORTHCOM – which
shouldn't be sharing information about American civilians with anyone – share
information with? The problem is, the range of choices in the world of American
intelligence alone is staggering. If you've read (or read about) the 9/11 Commission
Report, you may have seen the now almost iconic figure of 15 military
and civilian intelligence agencies bandied about. That in itself may seem
a startling total for the nation's intelligence operations, but, in addition
to the CIA, DIA, NSA,
FBI and others in the "big 15" of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC),
there exist a whole host of shadowy, half-known, and little understood, if well-acronymed,
intelligence/military/security-related offices, agencies, advisory organizations,
and committees such as the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the Defense
Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO), the President's Foreign Intelligence
Advisory Board (PFIAB) and the President's Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB);
the Department of Defense's own domestic cop corps, the Pentagon Force Protection
Agency (PFPA); and the Intelligence's Community's internal watchdog, the Defense
Security Service (DSS).
Think of these various arms of intelligence and the military as the essential
cast of characters in our bureaucratically proliferating Homeland Security State
where everybody, it seems, is eager to get in on the act. Nowhere is this more
apparent than in the operations center of the Department of Homeland Security.
In its horse-shoe shaped war-room, the
"FBI, the CIA, the Secret Service, and 33 other federal agencies each has
its own workstation. And so do the police departments of New York, Los Angeles,
Washington and six other major cities." In the operations center, large signs
on walls and doors command: "Our Mission: To Share Information"; and, to facilitate
this, in its offices local police officers sit just "a step or two away from
the CIA and FBI operatives who are downloading the latest intelligence coming
into those agencies." With all previous lines between domestic and foreign,
local and federal spying, policing, and governmental oversight now blurring,
this (according to outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge) is "the new
model of federalism" in action.
From the military to local governments, from ostensibly civilian federal agencies
to obscure counter-intelligence organizations, they're all on the make, creating
interagency alliances, setting up new programs, expanding their powers, gearing
up operations and/or creating "Big Brother" technologies to more effectively
monitor civilians, chill dissent, and bring the war back home. Right now, nothing
is closer to the heart of Homeland Security State officials (and to their budgetary
plans) than that old standby of dictatorships and oppressive regimes worldwide,
surveillance – by and of the Homeland population. In fact, almost every day,
new examples of ever-hopeful surveillance programs pop up. Of course, as yet,
we only have clues to the well-classified larger Homeland surveillance picture,
but even what we do know of the growing public face of surveillance in America
should cause some eyes to roll. Here's a brief overview of just a few of the
less publicized, but mostly public, attempts to ramp up the eye-power of the
Homeland Security State.
A little known member of the alphabet soup of
federal agencies is the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive
(more familiarly known by the unpronounceable acronym NCIX) – an organization
whose main goal is "to improve the performance of the counterintelligence (CI)
community in identifying, assessing, prioritizing and countering intelligence
threats to the United States." To accomplish this task, NCIX now offers that
ultimate necessity for Homeland security, downloadable "counterintelligence
and security awareness posters." One features the text of the First Amendment
to the Constitution ("…Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise
thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…") and the likeness of Thomas Jefferson,
but with a new addendum which
reads: "American freedom includes a responsibility to protect U.S. security
– leaking sensitive information erodes this freedom."
Another NCIX poster might come straight out of the old Soviet East Germany:
Security is Your Responsibility. Observe and Report." While NCIX is an obscure
agency, its decision to improve on the First Amendment and a fundamental American
freedom is indicative of where our Homeland Security State is heading; and the
admonition to "Observe and Report" catches its spirit exactly.
Every Wo/Man a G-Man
Prior to the Republican National Convention in
New York City, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent agents across the country
in what was widely seen as a blatant attempt to harass,
intimidate, and frighten potential protesters. The FBI, however, countered
by professing that "we
have always followed the rules, sensitive to Americans' constitutional rights
to free speech and assembly, always drawing the line between lawfully protected
speech and illegal activity."
By the fall of 2004, however, FBI spokespeople had moved on from such anodyne
reassurances and, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, the
bureau was launching its "October Plan." According to a CBS
news report, this program consisted of "aggressive – even obvious – surveillance
techniques to be used on… people suspected of being terrorist sympathizers,
but who have not committed a crime" while "[o]ther 'persons of interest,' including
their family members, m[ight] also be brought in for questioning…"
While harassing citizens at home, the FBI, which can't set up a successful
internal computer system of its own (despite squandering at least $170
million on the project), began dabbling in overseas e-censorship, by confiscating
servers in the United Kingdom from Indymedia, the activist media network website
"with apparently no explanation."
Harkavy reported in the Village Voice, "The network of activists
has not been accused of breaking any laws. But all of the material actually
on some of its key servers and hard disks was seized." More recently, the
creator of an open-source tool designed to help internet security experts
scan networks, services, and applications says he's been "pressured" by the
FBI for copies of the web server log that hosts his website.
In addition to intimidation tactics and tech-centric activities, the FBI has
apparently been using Joint Terrorism Task Forces (teams of state and local
law enforcement officers, FBI and other federal agents) as well as local police
to conduct "political
surveillance" of environmental activists as well as anti-war and religious-based
protest groups. The bureau is also eager to farm out such work to ordinary Americans
and has been calling on the public to do some old-fashioned peeping through
the blinds, just in case the neighbors are up to "certain
kinds of activities [that] indicate terrorist plans that are in the works."
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Strange as it may seem, the Air Force has also
gotten into the local surveillance act with an "Eagle
Eyes" anti-terrorism initiative which "enlists" average citizens in the
"war on terror." The Eagle Eyes' website tells viewers: "You and your family
are encouraged to learn the categories of suspicious behavior" and it exhorts
the public to drop a dime to "a network of local, 24-hour phone numbers… whenever
a suspicious activity is observed." Just what, then, constitutes "suspicious
activity"? Well, among activities worth alerting the flying eagles to, there's
the use of cameras (either still or video), note taking of any sort, making
annotations on maps, or using binoculars (birdwatchers beware!). And what other
patterns of behavior does the Air Force think should send you running to the
phone? A surefire indicator of terrorists afoot: "Suspicious
persons out of place…. People who don't seem to belong in the workplace,
neighborhood, business establishment, or anywhere else." Just ponder that one
for a moment – and, if you ever get lost, be afraid, very afraid…
While the Air Force does grudgingly admit that "this category is hard to define,"
it offers a classic you-know-it-when-you-see-it definition for calling your
local eagle: "The point is that people know what looks right and what doesn't
look right in their neighborhoods, office spaces, commutes [sic], etc, and if
a person just doesn't seem like he or she belongs…" An… ahem… urban looking
youth in a suburban white community? Call it in! A crusty punk near Wall Street?
Drop a dime! A woman near the White House wearing an anti-war t-shirt. Well,
that's an out-of-category no-brainer!
And, in fact, much of this has already begun to come true. After all, "suspicious
persons out of place" now do get arrested in the new Homeland Security State
for such offenses as wearing
anti-Bush t-shirts, carrying
heckling the president. Today, even displaying an anti-Bush sticker is,
in the words of the Secret Service, apparently "borderline
terrorism." Holding a sign that reads, "This
war is Bushit," warrants a citation from the cops and, as an eleven year
old boy found out, the sheriff might come calling on you if you utter "anti-American"
statements – while parents may be questioned by law enforcement officials to
ascertain if they're teaching "anti-American
values" at home.
[Tune in next week for Part II of this dispatch: the view from the civilian
side of the Homeland Security State.]
Nick Turse is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the History & Ethics
of Public Health in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
He writes for the Village Voice and regularly for Tomdispatch on the military-corporate
Copyright 2005 Nick Turse