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A false sense of security

Liberties violated under the guise of quelling threats, says author

John Tlumacki / The Associated Press files</p><p>Police officers react to a second explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013.</p>

John Tlumacki / The Associated Press files

Police officers react to a second explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2017 (1292 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The terrorist menace is seeping across national borders, threatening our lives every day.

That’s what the U.S. government and the myriad agencies it funds would have you believe, according to American security expert and academic William W. Keller. He argues convincingly that racism and inflamed rhetoric are used to justify engaging in egregious violations of accepted liberties, from illegal surveillance to hacking, detention, torture and even murder to keep American (read: Western) society safe.

Keller, who worked as a security analyst for the U.S. Congress among other positions, now teaches at the University of Georgia. He details the structuring of what he calls today’s Security Industrial Complex. He says Congress used horrific events such as 9/11 to push through anti-democratic legislation such as the USA Patriot Act with virtually no scrutiny, creating conditions where "unelected intelligence officials seize significant power" and, hand-in-hand with the private security industry, manipulate society to believe it’s being protected.

Evoking an emotional attachment from the word "homeland" (he ruefully draws the parallel to the Nazis’ use of the same word), Congress now spends US$40-$50 billion annually on supposed security measures, not to mention similar amounts it allots to the Armed Forces, the CIA and FBI.

That money reinforces a self-perpetuating bureaucracy and swells the profits of well-heeled security and military industrialists. Lone-wolf events amplified on 24-hour news channels "elicit an extraordinary overreaction" by authorities, make spying on American citizens more palatable and rationalizing further spending.

Keller cites the lockdown of a million people after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 as the worst example of the state degrading civil liberties, with police firing automatic weapons wildly in a testosterone-filled hunt for the fugitive. He notes there was no outcry from civil libertarians, nor is there any objection to the overblown media coverage of these events in comparison to bombings and attacks in other countries. He attributes the cowering of civil rights advocates to the unrelenting propaganda campaign the government and intelligence agencies have waged over the years.

But he reminds readers that despite bloated budgets and the militarization of local police forces, Americans are several times more likely to be victims of citizen-on-citizen gun violence, car accidents or random lightning strikes than terrorist acts.

Secret executive orders allow these agencies to operate with impunity. Digital software scoops up personal communications of private citizens into massive databanks without permission, public knowledge or accountability.

As a public relations ploy, agencies engage in counterfactual conspiracies, announcing they have thwarted domestic terrorist attacks while offering no details. Keller compares Barack Obama to the French Revolution’s Maximilien Robespierre during the Reign of Terror. Obama, he says, broke ethical, moral and legal codes by ordering the murder without trial of perceived terrorists by drone attacks in other countries. In doing so, untold numbers of civilians have also been killed — collateral damage of state-organized terrorism, says Keller.

Branding Muslims as supporters of the Islamic State is another weapon in the security industry’s arsenal. "Facts can be conveniently invented or discarded," he points out, a mantra followed by Donald Trump, whose racist rhetoric has emboldened homegrown terrorists to attack minority communities. The book’s release late last year includes references to the fractious U.S. election campaign.

Substantial endnotes and a chart of surveillance programs released by whistleblower Edward Snowden append the text, making this tightly written book a useful reference for a timely topic. Keller says the founders of the U.S. Constitution wouldn’t recognize the country they established, nor would they approve.

People have been misled about the forces putting their country in jeopardy: it’s the legitimizing of the surveillance state, a metaphorical step in history closer to tyranny.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg.


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