[News] Surveillance Blowback -The Making of the U.S. Surveillance State, 1898-2020

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jul 15 12:14:56 EDT 2013

*Surveillance Blowback *
*The Making of the U.S. Surveillance State, 1898-2020

*By Alfred W. McCoy <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/alfredmccoy>

The American surveillance state is now an omnipresent reality, but its 
deep history is little known and its future little grasped.  Edward 
Snowden's leaked documents 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/the-nsa-files> reveal that, in a 
post-9/11 state of war, the National Security Agency (NSA) was able to 
create a surveillance system that could secretly monitor the private 
communications of almost every American in the name of fighting foreign 
terrorists. The technology used is state of the art; the impulse, it 
turns out, is nothing new. For well over a century, what might be called 
"surveillance blowback" from America's wars has ensured the creation of 
an ever more massive and omnipresent internal security and surveillance 
apparatus.  Its future (though not ours) looks bright indeed.

In 1898, Washington occupied the Philippines and in the years that 
followed pacified its rebellious people, in part by fashioning the 
world's first full-scale "surveillance state" in a colonial land.  The 
illiberal lessons learned there then migrated homeward, providing the 
basis for constructing America's earliest internal security and 
surveillance apparatus during World War I.  A half-century later, as 
protests mounted during the Vietnam War, the FBI, building on the 
foundations of that old security structure, launched large-scale illegal 
counterintelligence operations to harass antiwar activists, while 
President Richard Nixon's White House created its own surveillance 
apparatus to target its domestic enemies.

In the aftermath of those wars, however, reformers pushed back against 
secret surveillance.  Republican privacy advocates abolished much of 
President Woodrow Wilson's security apparatus during the 1920s, and 
Democratic liberals in Congress created the FISA courts in the 1970s in 
an attempt to prevent any recurrence of President Nixon's illegal 
domestic wiretapping.

Today, as Washington withdraws troops from the Greater Middle East, a 
sophisticated intelligence apparatus built for the pacification of 
Afghanistan and Iraq has come home to help create a twenty-first century 
surveillance state of unprecedented scope. But the past pattern that 
once checked the rise of a U.S. surveillance state seems to be breaking 
down.  Despite talk about ending the war on terror one day, President 
Obama has left the historic pattern of partisan reforms far behind. In 
what has become a permanent state of "wartime" at home, the Obama 
administration is building upon the surveillance systems created in the 
Bush years to maintain U.S. global dominion in peace or war through a 
strategic, ever-widening edge in information control.  The White House 
shows no sign -- nor does Congress -- of cutting back on construction of 
a powerful, global Panopticon that can surveil domestic dissidents, 
track terrorists, manipulate allied nations, monitor rival powers, 
counter hostile cyber strikes, launch preemptive cyberattacks, and 
protect domestic communications.

Writing for TomDispatch four years ago during Obama's first months in 
office, I suggested 
that the War on Terror has "proven remarkably effective in building a 
technological template that could be just a few tweaks away from 
creating a domestic surveillance state -- with omnipresent cameras, deep 
data-mining, nano-second biometric identification, and drone aircraft 
patrolling 'the homeland.'"

That prediction has become our present reality -- and with stunning 
speed. Americans now live under the Argus-eyed gaze of a digital 
surveillance state, while increasing numbers of surveillance drones fill 
American skies.  In addition, the NSA's net now reaches far beyond our 
borders, sweeping up the personal messages of many millions of people 
worldwide and penetrating the confidential official communications of at 
least 30 allied nations. The past has indeed proven prologue. The future 
is now.

*The Coming of the Information Revolution*

The origins of this emerging global surveillance state date back over a 
century to "America's first information revolution" for the management 
of textual, statistical, and analytical data -- a set of innovations 
whose synergy created the technological capacity for mass surveillance.

Here's a little litany of "progress" to ponder while on the road to 
today's every-email-all-the-time version of surveillance.

Within just a few years, the union of Thomas A. Edison's quadruplex 
telegraph with Philo Remington's commercial typewriter, both inventions 
of 1874, allowed for the accurate transmission of textual data at the 
unequalled speed of 40 words per minute across America and around the world.

In the mid-1870s as well, librarian Melvil Dewey developed the "Dewey 
decimal system" to catalog the Amherst College Library, thereby 
inventing the "smart number" for the reliable encoding and rapid 
retrieval of limitless information.

The year after engineer Herman Hollerith patented the punch card (1889), 
the U.S. Census Bureau adopted his Electrical Tabulating machine to 
count 62,622,250 Americans within weeks -- a triumph that later led to 
the founding of International Business Machines, better known by its 
acronym IBM.

By 1900, all American cities were wired via the Gamewell Corporation's 
innovative telegraphic communications, with over 900 municipal police 
and fire systems sending 41 million messages in a single year.

*A Colonial Laboratory for the Surveillance State*

On the eve of empire in 1898, however, the U.S. government was still 
what scholar Stephen Skowronek has termed a "patchwork" state with a 
near-zero capacity for domestic security.  That, of course, left ample 
room for the surveillance version of modernization, and it came with 
surprising speed after Washington conquered and colonized the Philippines.

Facing a decade of determined Filipino resistance, the U.S. Army applied 
all those American information innovations -- rapid telegraphy, 
photographic files, alpha-numeric coding, and Gamewell police 
communications -- to the creation of a formidable, three-tier colonial 
security apparatus including the Manila Police, the Philippines 
Constabulary, and above all the Army's Division of Military Information.

In early 1901, Captain Ralph Van Deman, later dubbed "the father of U.S. 
Military Intelligence," assumed command of this still embryonic 
division, the Army's first field intelligence unit in its 100-year 
history. With a voracious appetite for raw data, Van Deman's division 
compiled phenomenally detailed information on thousands of Filipino 
leaders, including their physical appearance, personal finances, landed 
property, political loyalties, and kinship networks.

Starting in 1901, the first U.S. governor-general (and future president) 
William Howard Taft drafted draconian sedition legislation for the 
islands and established a 5,000-man strong Philippines Constabulary.  In 
the process, he created a colonial surveillance state that ruled, in 
part, thanks to the agile control of information, releasing damning data 
about enemies while suppressing scandals about allies.

When the Associated Press's Manila bureau chief reported critically on 
these policies, Taft's allies dug up dirt on this would-be critic and 
dished it out to the New York press.  On the other hand, the Division of 
Military Information compiled a scandalous report about the rising 
Filipino politician Manuel Quezon, alleging a premarital abortion by his 
future first lady.  Quezon, however, served the Constabulary as a spy, 
so this document remained buried in U.S. files, assuring his unchecked 
ascent to become the first president of the Philippines in 1935.

*American Blueprint*

During the U.S. conquest of the Philippines, Mark Twain wrote an 
imagined history of twentieth-century America.  In it, he predicted that 
a "lust for conquest" had already destroyed "the Great [American] 
Republic," because  "trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, 
by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home." Indeed, 
just a decade after Twain wrote those prophetic words, colonial police 
methods came home to serve as a template for the creation of an American 
internal security apparatus in wartime.

After the U.S. entered World War I in 1917 without an intelligence 
service of any sort, Colonel Van Deman brought his Philippine experience 
to bear, creating the U.S. Army's Military Intelligence Division (MID) 
and so laying the institutional foundations for a future internal 
security state.

In collaboration with the FBI, he also expanded the MID's reach through 
a civilian auxiliary organization, the American Protective League, whose 
350,000 citizen-operatives amassed more than a million pages of 
surveillance reports on German-Americans in just 14 months, arguably the 
world's most intensive feat of domestic surveillance ever.

After the Armistice in 1918, Military Intelligence joined the FBI in two 
years of violent repression of the American left marked by the notorious 
Luster raids in New York City, J. Edgar Hoover's "Palmer Raids" in 
cities across the northeast and the suppression of union strikes from 
New York City to Seattle.

When President Wilson left office in 1921, incoming Republican privacy 
advocates condemned his internal security regime as intrusive and 
abusive, forcing the Army and the FBI to cut their ties to patriotic 
vigilantes. In 1924, Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone, worrying that 
"a secret police may become a menace to free government," announced "the 
Bureau of Investigation is not concerned with political or other 
opinions of individuals." Epitomizing the nation's retreat from 
surveillance, Secretary of War Henry Stimson closed the Military 
Intelligence cipher section in 1929, saying famously, "Gentlemen do not 
read each other's mail."

After retiring at the rank of major general that same year, Van Deman 
and his wife continued from their home in San Diego to coordinate an 
informal intelligence exchange system, compiling files on 250,000 
suspected "subversives."  They also took reports from classified 
government files and slipped them to citizen anti-communist groups for 
blacklisting. In the 1950 elections, for instance, Representative 
Richard Nixon reportedly used Van Deman's files to circulate "pink 
sheets" at rallies denouncing California Congresswoman Helen Gahagan 
Douglas, his opponent in a campaign for a Senate seat, launching a 
victorious Nixon on the path to the presidency.

 From retirement, Van Deman, in league with FBI Director J. Edgar 
Hoover, also proved crucial at a 1940 closed-door conference that 
awarded the FBI control over domestic counterintelligence.  The Army's 
Military Intelligence, and its successors, the CIA and NSA, were 
restricted to foreign espionage, a division of tasks that would hold, at 
least in principle 
until the post-9/11 years. So armed, during World War II the FBI used 
warrantless wiretaps, "black bag" break-ins, and surreptitious mail 
opening to track suspects, while mobilizing more than 300,000 informers 
to secure defense plants against wartime threats that ultimately proved 

*The Vietnam Years*

In response to the civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests of the 1960s, 
the FBI deployed its COINTELPRO operation, using what Senator Frank 
Church's famous investigative committee later called "unsavory and 
vicious tactics... including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, 
disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke 
target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths."

In assessing COINTELPRO's 2,370 actions from 1960 to 1974, the Church 
Committee branded them a "sophisticated vigilante operation" that "would 
be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had 
been involved in violent activity." Significantly, even this aggressive 
Senate investigation did not probe Director Hoover's notorious "private 
files" on the peccadilloes of leading politicians that had insulated his 
Bureau from any oversight for more than 30 years.

After /New York Times/ reporter Seymour Hersh 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seymour_Hersh> exposed illegal CIA 
surveillance of American antiwar activists in 1974, Senator Church's 
committee and a presidential commission under Nelson Rockefeller 
investigated the Agency's "Operation Chaos," a program to conduct 
massive illegal surveillance of the antiwar protest movement, 
discovering a database with 300,000 names.  These investigations also 
exposed the excesses of the FBI's COINTELPRO, forcing the Bureau to reform.

To prevent future abuses, President Jimmy Carter signed the Foreign 
Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978, creating a special court 
to approve all national security wiretaps.  In a bitter irony, Carter's 
supposed reform ended up plunging the judiciary into the secret world of 
the surveillance managers where, after 9/11, it became a rubberstamp 
for every kind of state intrusion on domestic privacy.

*How the Global War on Terror Came Home*

As its pacification wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sank into bloody 
quagmires, Washington brought electronic surveillance, biometric 
identification, and unmanned aerial vehicles to the battlefields.  This 
trio, which failed to decisively turn the tide in those lands, 
nonetheless now undergirds a global U.S. surveillance apparatus of 
unequalled scope and unprecedented power.

After confining the populations of Baghdad and the rebellious Sunni city 
of Falluja behind blast-wall cordons, the U.S. Army attempted to bring 
the Iraqi resistance under control in part by collecting 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/12/iraq-biometrics-database/>, as 
of 2011, three million Iraqi fingerprints,iris, and retinal scans.  
These were deposited 
<http://www.consortiumnews.com/Print/2007/121307.html> in a biometric 
database in West Virginia that American soldiers at checkpoints and 
elsewhere on distant battlefields could at any moment access by 
satellite link. Simultaneously, the Joint Special Operations Command 
under General Stanley McChrystal centralized 
all electronic and satellite surveillance in the Greater Middle East to 
identify possible al-Qaeda operatives for assassination 
<http://us.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/09/09/iraq.secret/index.html> by 
Predator drones or hunter-killer raids by Special Operations commandos 
from Somalia to Pakistan.

Domestically, post-9/11, the White House tried to create a modern 
version of the old state-citizen alliance for domestic surveillance. In 
May 2002, President Bush's Justice Department launched 
Operation TIPS with "millions of American truckers, letter carriers, 
train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others" spying 
on fellow citizens. But there was vocal opposition from members of 
Congress, civil libertarians, and the media, which soon forced Justice 
to quietly kill the program.

In a digital iteration of the same effort, retired admiral John 
Poindexter began to set up 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/30/opinion/poindexter-s-follies.html> an 
ominously titled Pentagon program called Total Information Awareness to 
amass a "detailed electronic dossier on millions of Americans." Again 
the nation recoiled, Congress banned the program, and the admiral was 
forced to resign.

Defeated in the public arena, the Bush administration retreated into the 
shadows, where it launched secret FBI and NSA domestic surveillance 
programs. Here, Congress proved far more amenable and pliable.  In 2002, 
Congress erased 
the bright line that had long barred the CIA from domestic spying, 
granting the agency the power to access U.S. financial records and audit 
electronic communications routed through the country.

Defying the FISA law, in October 2001 President Bush ordered 
the NSA to commence covert monitoring of private communications through 
the nation's telephone companies without the requisite warrants. 
According to 
the Associated Press, he also "secretly authorized the NSA to plug into 
the fiber optic cables that enter and leave the United States" carrying 
the world's "emails, telephone calls, video chats, websites, bank 
transactions, and more." Since his administration had already 
conveniently decided 
that "metadata was not constitutionally protected," the NSA began an 
open-ended program, Operation Stellar Wind, "to collect bulk telephony 
and Internet metadata."

By 2004, the Bush White House was so wedded to Internet metadata 
collection that top aides barged into Attorney General John Ashcroft's 
hospital room to extract a reauthorization signature for the program.  
They were blocked 
by Justice Department officials led by Deputy Attorney General James 
Comey, forcing a two-month suspension until that FISA court, brought 
into existence in the Carter years, put its first rubber-stamp on this 
mass surveillance regime.

Armed with expansive FISA court orders allowing the collection of data 
sets rather than information from specific targets, the FBI's 
"Investigative Data Warehouse 
<http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2006_hr/050206mueller.html>" acquired 
more than a billion documents 
within five years, including intelligence reports, social security 
files, drivers' licenses, and private financial information.  All of 
this was accessible to 13,000 analysts making a million queries monthly. 
In 2006, as the flood of data surging through fiber optic cables 
strained NSA computers, the Bush administration launched 
the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity to develop 
supercomputing searches powerful enough to process this torrent of 
Internet information.

In 2005, a /New York Times/ investigative report exposed 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html> the 
administration's illegal surveillance for the first time. A year later, 
/USA Today/ reported 
<http://yahoo.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-05-10-nsa_x.htm> that 
the NSA was "secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of 
millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon, and Bell 
South." One expert called it  "the largest database ever assembled in 
the world," adding presciently that the Agency's goal was "to create a 
database of every call ever made."

In August 2007, in response to these revelations, Congress capitulated.  
It passed a new law, the Protect America Act, which retrospectively 
legalized this illegal White House-inspired set of programs by requiring 
greater oversight by the FISA court.  This secret tribunal -- acting 
almost as a "parallel Supreme Court 
that rules on fundamental constitutional rights without adversarial 
proceedings or higher review -- has removed any real restraint on the 
National Security Agency's bulk collection of Internet metadata and 
regularly rubberstamps 
almost 100% of the government's thousands of surveillance requests. 
Armed with expanded powers, the National Security Agency promptly 
its PRISM program (recently revealed by Edward Snowden).  To feed its 
hungry search engines, the NSA has compelled nine Internet giants, 
including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, and Skype, to 
transfer what became billions of emails to its massive data farms.

*Obama's Expanding Surveillance Universe*

Instead of curtailing his predecessor's wartime surveillance, as 
Republicans did in the 1920s and Democrats in the 1970s, President Obama 
has overseen the expansion of the NSA's wartime digital operations into 
a permanent weapon for the exercise of U.S. global power.

The Obama administration continued a Bush-era NSA program of "bulk email 
records collection" until 2011 when two senators protested 
that the agency's "statements to both Congress and the Court... 
significantly exaggerated this program's effectiveness."  Eventually, 
the administration was forced to curtail this particular operation. 
Nonetheless, the NSA has continued to collect 
the personal communications of Americans by the billions under its PRISM 
and other programs.

In the Obama years as well, the NSA began cooperating with its long-time 
British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), 
to tap into 
the dense cluster of Trans-Atlantic Telecommunication fiber optic cables 
that transit the United Kingdom. During a visit to a GCHQ facility for 
high-altitude intercepts at Menwith Hill in June 2008, NSA Director 
General Keith Alexander asked, "Why can't we collect all the signals all 
the time? Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith."

In the process, GCHQ's Operation Tempora achieved 
the "biggest Internet access" of any partner in a "Five Eyes" 
signals-intercept coalition that, in addition to Great Britain and the 
U.S., includes Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. When the project went 
online in 2011, the GCHQ sank probes into 200 Internet cables and was 
soon collecting 600 million telephone messages daily, which were, in 
turn, made accessible to 850,000 NSA employees.

The historic alliance between the NSA and GCHQ dates back 
to the dawn of the Cold War.  In deference to it, the NSA has, since 
2007, exempted its "2nd party" Five Eyes allies from surveillance under 
its "Boundless Informant" operation. According to another recently 
NSA document, however, "we can, and often do, target the signals of most 
3rd party foreign partners."  This is clearly a reference to close 
allies like Germany, France, and Italy.

On a busy day in January 2013, for instance, the NSA collected 
60 million phone calls and emails from Germany -- some 500 million 
German messages are reportedly collected annually -- with lesser but 
still hefty numbers from France, Italy, and non-European allies like 
To gain operational intelligence on such allies, the NSA taps phones 
at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, bugs the European 
Union (EU) delegation at the U.N., has planted a "Dropmire" monitor "on 
the Cryptofax at the EU embassy DC," and eavesdrops on 38 allied 
embassies worldwide.

Such secret intelligence about its allies gives Washington an immense 
diplomatic advantage, says 
NSA expert James Bamford. "It's the equivalent of going to a poker game 
and wanting to know what everyone's hand is before you place your bet." 
And who knows what scurrilous bits of scandal about world leaders 
American surveillance systems might scoop up to strengthen Washington's 
hand in that global poker game called diplomacy.

This sort of digital surveillance was soon supplemented by actual 
Internet warfare.  Between 2006 and 2010, Washington launched the 
planet's first cyberwar 
with Obama ordering 
devastating cyberattacks against Iran's nuclear facilities. In 2009, the 
Pentagon formed 
<http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/technology/24cyber.html> the U.S. 
Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), with a cybercombat center at Lackland Air Base 
initially staffed <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/us/01cyberwar.html> 
by 7,000 Air Force employees. Over the next two years, by appointing 
<http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123205791> NSA chief Alexander as 
CYBERCOM's concurrent commander, it created an enormous concentration of 
power in the digital shadows.  The Pentagon has also declared 
cyberspace an "operational domain" for both offensive and defensive warfare.

*Controlling the Future*

By leaking a handful of NSA documents, Edward Snowden has given us a 
glimpse of future U.S. global policy and the changing architecture of 
power on this planet. At the broadest level, this digital shift 
complements Obama's new defense strategy, announced in 2012, of reducing 
(cutting, for example, infantry troops by 14%), while conserving 
Washington's overall power by developing a capacity 
<http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf> for "a 
combined arms campaign across all domains -- land, air, maritime, space, 
and cyberspace."

While cutting conventional armaments, Obama is investing billions in 
constructing a new architecture for global information control. To store 
and process the billions of messages sucked up by its worldwide 
surveillance network (totaling 
97 billion items for March alone), the NSA is employing 
11,000 workers to build a $1.6 billion data center in Bluffdale, Utah, 
whose storage capacity 
<http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1> is 
measured in "yottabytes," each the equivalent of a trillion terabytes.  
That's almost unimaginable once you realize that just 15 terabytes could 
store every publication in the Library of Congress.

 From its new $1.8 billion headquarters, the third-biggest building in 
the Washington area, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency deploys 
16,000 employees and a $5 billion budget to coordinate a rising torrent 
of surveillance data from Predators, Reapers, U-2 spy planes, Global 
Hawks, X-37B space drones, Google Earth, Space Surveillance Telescopes, 
and orbiting satellites.

To protect those critical orbiting satellites, which transmit most U.S. 
military communications, the Pentagon is building an aerospace shield of 
pilotless drones. In the exosphere, the Air Force has since April 2010 
been successfully testing 
the X-37B space drone that can carry missiles 
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11911335> to strike rival 
satellite networks such as the one the Chinese are currently creating.

For more extensive and precise surveillance from space, the Pentagon has 
been replacing 
<http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/06/spy-sat-faster-cheaper/> its 
costly, school-bus-sized spy satellites with a new generation of light, 
low cost models such as the ATK-A200 
<https://directory.eoportal.org/web/eoportal/satellite-missions/o/ors-1>. Successfully 
launched in May 2011, this module is orbiting 250 miles above the Earth 
with remote-controlled, U-2 quality cameras that now provide the "U.S. 
Central Command an assured ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and 
Reconnaissance) capability."

In the stratosphere, close enough to Earth for audiovisual surveillance, 
the Pentagon is planning to launch 
an armada of 99 Global Hawk drones -- each equipped with high-resolution 
cameras to surveil all terrain within a 100-mile radius, electronic 
sensors to intercept communications, and efficient engines for 
continuous 24-hour flight.

Within a decade, the U.S. will likely deploy this aerospace shield, 
advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and even vaster, more omnipresent 
digital surveillance networks that will envelop the Earth in an 
electronic grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield, 
atomizing a single suspected terrorist, or monitoring millions of 
private lives at home and abroad.

Sadly, Mark Twain was right when he warned us just over 100 years ago 
that America could not have both empire abroad and democracy at home.  
To paraphrase his prescient words, by "trampling upon the helpless 
abroad" with unchecked surveillance, Americans have learned, "by a 
natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home."

/Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the 
University of Wisconsin-Madison. A //TomDispatch regular/ 
he is the author /Policing America's Empire: The United States, the 
Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State 
(University of Wisconsin), which is the source for much of the material 
in this essay./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
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