Government of the Surveillers, by the Surveillers, for the Surveillers
If Edward Snowden's documents reveal anything, it's that the frenzy of construction—from new headquarters to new data centers—that has been the mark of the intelligence world since 9/11 has been matched by a similar frenzy of construction in the world of online and telephonic communications. We undoubtedly don't know the full scope of it yet, but it's already obvious that from PRISM to XKeyscore the US Intelligence Community has been creating a labyrinth of redundant surveillance mechanisms that mimics the vast growth and redundancy of the intelligence world itself, of the 17 organizations and agencies in that "community" and all the little outfits or offices not even counted in that staggering figure.
The truth is that, thanks to our "spies," we know a great deal more about how our American world, our government, really works, but we still don't know what this thing that's being built really is. Even its creators may be at sea when it comes to what exactly they are in the process of constructing. They want us to trust them, but we the people shouldn't put our trust in the generals, high-level bureaucrats, and spooks who don't even blink when they lie to our representatives, pay no price for doing so, and are creating a world that is, and is meant to be, beyond our control. We lack words for what is happening to us. We still have to name it.
It is at least clearer that our world, our society, is becoming ever more imperial in nature, reflecting in part the way our post-9/11 wars have come home. With its widening economic inequalities, the United States is increasingly a society of the rulers and the ruled, the surveillers and the surveilled. Those surveillers have hundreds of thousands of spies to keep track of us and others on this planet, and no matter what they do, no matter what lines they cross, no matter how egregious their acts may be, they are never punished for them, not even losing their jobs. We, on the other hand, have a tiny number of volunteer surveillers on our side. The minute they make themselves known or are tracked down by the national security state, they automatically lose their jobs and that's only the beginning of the punishments levied on them.
Those who run our new surveillance state have not the slightest hesitation about sacrificing us on the altar of their plans—all for the greater good, as they define it.
This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with any imaginable definition of democracy or the long-gone republic. This is part of the new way of life of imperial America in which a government of the surveillers, by the surveillers, for the surveillers shall not perish from the Earth.
Those who watch us—they would undoubtedly say "watch over," as in protect—are no Nathan Hales. Their version of his line might be: I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country: yours.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (just published in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.
[Note on Nathan Hale: Back in the 1950s, we learned his famous line as "I only regret that I have one life to give for my country." It is more likely, however, that he said, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Or, of course, he may not have uttered either of those sentences. We don't know.]
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