Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dan McCarthy on Snowden, Manning, and the National-Security State

Dan McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative (one of the few good conservative magazines, along with Taki's Magazine and The New American, that supports noninterventionist foreign policy and welcomes libertarians and front-porch radicals), comments on Snowden, Manning, and their relevance in the much wider and more epic debate over the surveillance state.

He shows us the relevance of the debate, and that it is not irrelevant. He shows us that the NSA and the whole bureaucratic system was built to fight the Cold War (which can be very instrumental in creating the statist system we are in today), but once that cold war ended, it was looking for more work to do.

Here are the three things McCarthy urges us to focus on when discussing the NSA and the national security state in general:

1. "First, most of it was built during the Cold War for the purposes of winning that conflict. The National Security Agency’s prowess with intercepting electronic communications of all kinds had a particular purpose. Every foreign government and non-state entity was fair game, though neither foreign nationals nor their signals were necessarily geographically restricted. There was always incidental pickup of U.S. citizen communications."

2. "Second—and this is a point brought out in Barton Gellman’s invaluable book Angler—the national-security reforms of the Watergate era branded the brains of Republicans like Dick Cheney. They saw two presidents, Nixon and Ford, crippled in their ability to wage the Cold War by legislative meddling. Cheney, for one, believed that the presidency and the agencies serving it had to be restored to the level of power they had wielded before Nixon’s disgrace."

3. "Third, prosecutors and investigators at all levels have a professional interest in wider surveillance, and long before 9/11 they were fishing for pretexts that might reward them with Patriot Act-like powers. Threats of turn-of-the-millennium terrorism looked like a magic lamp that might grant every wish, but it turned out to take a real act of terrorism on 9/11 to fulfill long-thwarted professional fantasies. After 9/11, who was going to say no? Who would dare even question the expansion of domestic surveillance and police powers?"

The increase of the surveillance state enriches the military-industrial complex, all while the state is growing at the expense of our traditional liberties and freedom. Before 9-11, McCarthy points out, "there was political will (from the likes of Cheney), technical means (the Cold War intelligence infrastructure), and professional interest (on the part of domestic law enforcement and regulators) for weakening the distinctions between foreign surveillance and domestic intelligence gathering. Until 9/11, there was also resistance—but immediately after 9/11, all that dissolved. There was no debate commensurate with the gravity of what was being done. Congress was compliant and the press, including the nascent blogosphere, was doubly so. Pundits were falling over one another in those days to see who could endorse torture quickest."

There was basically no debate, with the exception of Ron Paul and the resistance from the libertarians, anti-war conservatives and civil libertarians, over the surveillance state that was growing under the Patriot Act.

It was only with Manning (see here, here and here) and Snowden that the debate was set off and people began to rethink their previous support for the surveillance state.

Dan McCarthy's article is vitally important because it sheds light on these prescient facts.

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