Debating America’s Surveillance State

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SALON– Earlier this month, The Cato Institute’s Unbound published my essay on America’s Surveillance State, and then invited several commentators to reply and participate in a debate of these issues.  Two of those replies were particularly critical:  this one from John Eastman, former Dean of the Chapman University School of Law (recent home to John Yoo), recently defeated GOP candidate for California Attorney General, and former clerk to right-wing judges Clarence Thomas and Michael Luttig; and this one from Paul Rosenzweig, a Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Homeland Security official in the Bush administration.

My reply to them is now posted.  As I noted, those two responses “perfectly illustrate the continuous stream of manipulative fear-mongering over the last decade which has reduced much of the American citizenry into a meek and submissive faction for whom no asserted government power is too extreme, provided the scary menace of ‘Terrorism’ is uttered to justify it.”  For that reason, I think the discussion is quite instructive.

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THE SURVEILLANCE STATE THRIVES ON FEAR

I’m particularly appreciative of the responses to my initial essay by John Eastman and Paul Rosenzweig. Those two replies — especially the former — perfectly illustrate the continuous stream of manipulative fear-mongering over the last decade which has reduced much of the American citizenry into a meek and submissive faction for whom no asserted government power is too extreme, provided the scary menace of “Terrorism” is uttered to justify it.

That more-surveillance-is-always-better mentality is what allows Eastman and Rosenzweig to dismiss concerns over surveillance excesses a mere four weeks after the establishment-supporting Washington Post documented that our Surveillance State is “so large, so unwieldy and so secretive” that not even top intelligence and defense officials know what it does. For those who are so fearful of Terrorism and/or so authoritarian in their desire to exploit and exaggerate that threat for greater government power, not even the construction of a “Top Secret America” — “an alternative geography of the United States” that operates in the dark and with virtually no oversight — is cause for concern.

Eastman’s essay centers around one three-word slogan: We‘re at war! For almost a full decade, this has been the all-justifying cliché for everything the U.S. Government does — from torture, renditions and due-process-free imprisonments to wars of aggression, occupations, assassination programs aimed at U.S. citizens and illegal domestic eavesdropping. Thus does Eastman thunder, with the melodrama and hysteria typical of this scare tactic: “Not once in his article does Greenwald even acknowledge that we are at war with a global enemy bent on destroying us.” A global enemy bent on destroying us! Scary: be very afraid.

By invoking The War Justification for America’s Surveillance State, Eastman wants to trigger images of America’s past glorious wars. He’s not particularly subtle about that, as he begins with a charming story of how his grandfather’s letters were censored during World War I (how censorship of a soldier deployed in a foreign war justifies surveillance of American civilians on U.S. soil is anyone’s guess). But, for several reasons, this war justification is as misleading as it is dangerous:

Continue reading about America’s Surveillance State.

Written by Glenn Greenwald

© SALON, 2010

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