Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Expanding Surveillance State


After the PATRIOT Act is extended for Four More Years, the always obliging New York Times runs a lengthy article on what the surveillance provisions of the Act mean in real life, as opposed to the fictive "meanings" developed through 24 hour cable teevee news fantasies and FOX Entertainment.

Real People get caught up in the domestic surveillance nets, and Scott Crow of Austin, TX is one of them.

AUSTIN, Tex. — A fat sheaf of F.B.I. reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Yes. Well.

Obviously terrorists. And it's not just Austin Anarchists like Crow.

It's like the Grannies for Peace surveilled and reported upon to Military Intelligence when they protested the Various Wars at the California State Capitol. Peace activists of any kind anywhere they congregate and plot and plan their next sign-carrying demonstration calling for an End to This or That Imperialist War of Aggression are always considered "threats" to the State. And sometimes they are met with considerable official violence and repression.

It's like anyone who protests Authority. Protests the ever more institutionalized Autocracy. Protests Corporate Greed, Media Lies, Public/Private Propaganda Partnerships, you name it.

All fall under the "counterterrorism" investigation rubric, as they have done for many a long year now, and the Times bethinks itself, now that the Authority to Surveille has been extended by act of our Representatives in Congress Assembled and the President via Auto-Pen Overseas, to tell its readers some of the story of what this particular Authority has led to.

Of course the Times, as it so often is, is late to the Party. These incidents of excessive zeal to surveille have been documented and discussed in alternative media for a decade or more, and its precursors were, of course, characteristic of the Cold War and the McCarthy Era and many other periods of the US Government's abrogation of personal privacy rights to gain information that can be used against targeted suspects -- and not necessarily in court, either.

From time to time, as a Federal employee, I was involved in aspects of civilian surveillance, and I have some idea of the mindset that goes with it. Put simply, it's wildly out of whack, but those who do the surveillance or those who order it really have no conception of how bedrock batshit their quest tends to be. It truly does not occur to them.

For the starting assumption is that the target(s) MUST have come under scrutiny for "some reason", even though there may be no violation of law or custom. The point is not (always) to find a chargeable offense. Not at all. The point is to gather as much useful intelligence about the target(s) so as to have it available should the need arise.

The question is who determines "need." More and more clearly, "need" is determined by political considerations -- and agency statistical goals. Political considerations include the whole "anti-terrorist" thrust and obsessive purpose of the Government, much as, during the Cold War, the Government was obsessively anti-Communist and targeted and surveilled all kinds of people who were suspected of Communist ties or sympathies or... something.

It goes beyond that because agencies and individual personnel are expected and required to meet certain statistical goals based on previous performance and/or newly minted objectives. Political considerations combined with statistical requirements inevitably produce the kinds of off kilter surveillance activities documented in today's NYT and long a feature of alternative media.

And it is justified, always justified, by those involved, who typically do not and cannot see anything wrong (at all) with what they are doing.

Of course, it can lead to tragic consequences for those who are targeted, even when that is not -- at all -- the intention of those who have ordered or are doing the surveillance.

Once these episodes get started, they continue by inertia as much as anything else, which is one reason why representatives and the public (let alone the Sponsors) should be very careful about what they task Government to do.

A really stark and bloody consequence of not thinking through the consequences of tasking Government to do this or that is the ongoing, seemingly endless, series of Imperial Wars of Aggression that arise as a function of the AUMF of 2001 and subsequently. No, you say? The endless wars of aggression against peoples and nations of the Muslim persuasion was NOT what the AUMF was intended to instigate?

Buzzzzt. Wrong.

Just so, the PATRIOT Act sets up a whole system of -- and virtually a requirement for -- the ongoing targeting and surveilling of potential threats. Not just dirty, filthy, stinky Ragheads. Oh no. Anyone who could represent a threat -- of any kind -- to the State (and its Sponsors.)

Thus, of course, Anarchists and Peace Activists are caught up in it, just like Civil Rights Workers and Peace Activists were caught up in the surveillance nets of the past.

Because these targets want to change the dynamic of rule in this country, they are by definition potential "threats," and by the lights of the agencies involved and the directives they are operating under, they must be surveilled.

"But they are doing nothing wrong."

So? It doesn't matter. Well, it does in the sense that the surveillance will rarely lead to charges or any other legal consequence for those targeted. That's not the point of the surveillance in most cases. The point of the surveillance is to have "intelligence" available should the "need" (remember, the "need" is determined by political considerations and internal statistical requirements) arise.

If there comes a political "need" for sacrificial lambs, you bet, into the maw some of these targets go. Too bad, so sad, bye bye now. It is that coldblooded and that rude. Watch how your military behaves in the field when identifying and targeting -- and from time to time liquidating -- "insurgents." It ain't pretty. Well, that's how your Federal Government and its agents regard you. And, with some adjustments, that's how they will treat you if the "need" arises.

They are just as coldblooded, rude and -- very often -- wrong.

But by and large, that is a consequence of how they are tasked and expected -- and required -- to perform, just like the military. If We the People don't like it, we are the ones who have to do something about it, and it is never easy.

As I said, once these things get under way, they continue by inertia as much as anything else, and if the brakes aren't working, as they aren't in our hollowed out Republic, they snowball.

And what are we supposed to do when the brakes aren't working?

Telling the story after the fact, like the Times is doing, does not provide any means to prevent what's already occurred and is occurring. Any effort to stop the excesses of the Surveillance State has to come from elsewhere than stories like this. As I say, these sorts of things have been reported in alternative media for years and years and years. They never cease to OUTRAGE!!!™ a certain ilk, but their OUTRAGE!!!™ quickly enough becomes "poutrage" -- because it is completely impotent against the Authority of the State to do these sorts of things.

There is no brake on this juggernaut. At least the Busheviks would say, "Trust us; we'll drive responsibly." If you believe that, you'll believe anything.

So what do you do?

You can try the meatgrinder of process, ie: going through the endless routines of elections and Congress and the Courts that really don't get you anywhere -- at least not for decades. And even if you do win -- eventually -- the process always leads to reversion, we're back where we started, and like Sisyphus, we have to start all over again.

Some people have been trying something else, though, and it seems to be at least partially effective:

You... to put it delicately... fuck with your surveillance operators. You surveille them for example, if you can find them. You produce bogus trails for them to follow. You create outrageous scenes that bollox their supposed lines of investigations. Yes, it's work, and it doesn't always work, but that's ultimately how you defeat them. What they're doing, of course, is time serving and time wasting. But they don't have any idea of that. They're just doing what they are ordered to do. Generally speaking, they're doing it mindlessly. So, fill up their journals and reports with bullshit. It's work, but it's easy enough, and it may even be pleasurable in the end.

You see it more and more, people in Guy Fawkes masks turning up at protests all over the country, all over the world. It's... a statement. There are times when everyone should wear their Guy Fawkes mask, no?

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