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The Rise of the American Corporate Security State

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In the United States today we have good reasons to be afraid. Our Bill of Rights is no more. It has been rendered pointless by heavy surveillance of average citizens, political persecution of dissenters, and the potential of indefinite detention now codified into law. Our democracy and freedoms are impaired daily by government control of information, systemic financial corruption, unfettered corporate influence in our elections, and by corporate-controlled international institutions. The Constitution of The United States that has shielded us for more than 200 years from the tentacles of oppressive government and the stranglehold of private wealth becomes more meaningless with each new act of corporate-ocracy.

Behind a thinning veneer of democracy, the Corporate Security State is tipping the balance between the self-interest of a governing corporate elite and the rights of the people to freedom, safety and fairness. The consequences of these trends and conditions are devastating. We are submerged in endless war, and the wealth produced by and in the United States skews upward in greater concentrations every year. The middle class is under financial attack, as Washington prepares to loot Social Security and Medicare to finance the insatiable war-making and profit-taking.  

Repression descends on a people slowly at first, but then crushes quickly, silencing dissent. According to the author of Rise of The American Corporate Security State, Beatrice Edwards, our task now is to recognize the real reasons to be afraid in 21st century America, and address them.  Our early steps in the right direction may be small ones, but they are important. They are based on the principle that we, as Americans, have a right to know what our government is doing and to speak openly about it. Creeping censorship, secret courts, clandestine corporate control are all anathema to democratic practices and must be corrected now, before this last chance to redeem our rights is lost.

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Chapter 1: The Government-Corporate Complex: What It Knows about You

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Reason to be afraid #1:

Average citizens are subject to ever-expanding surveillance and data collection by the government-corporate complex.

Halfway across the ornate sitting room, Julian Assange stands with his back to the door, drinking a bottle of beer. It is early on a summer evening, June 22, 2013, and the Embassy of Ecuador in London is hosting a small party to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of his arrival in need of asylum. While Assange stands chatting calmly about the future of his anti-secrecy enterprise, Wikileaks, few people in the room know that he is worried. Sarah Harrison, his principal researcher and confidant, is only hours away from slipping out of Hong Kong with Edward Snowden, who, at that moment, is fast becoming the most hunted man in the world.

Close friends and supporters of Assange mill around the room, helping themselves to the buffet and arguing about software and the state of the world—in that order. Assange himself, with his longish white hair and black jeans, looks slightly out of place in the scene, bordered as it is by stiff-legged, gilt-painted settees. After a year, however, he’s completely at home here, laughing and joking with the security guys, lawyers, and hacker guests, talking thoughtfully about the escalating struggle for control of electronic information.

 

Chapter 2: Official Secrets: Absolute Control

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Reason to be afraid #2

Control of information by the government-corporate complex is expanding.

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it, or exactly how many agencies do the same work. 17

On July 19, 2010, the Washington Post published an investigative story by Dana Priest and William Arkin that revealed the expanding parameters of the security state. The information that the NSA and the Justice Department struggled for years to control was seeping out, despite the attacks on the NSA whistleblowers and the censorship and harassment of journalists.

The effort to conceal the government’s secret surveillance programs undoubtedly ramped up after Alberto Gonzales had a brush with perjury three years before the Priest/Arkin story appeared. Bush’s hapless attorney general nearly revealed in an open congressional hearing that there were more surveillance programs than the Senate knew about. Gonzales admitted to “other intelligence activities,” beyond the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program, in a testy back and forth with Senator Charles Schumer.18

 

Chapter 3: The Constitution Impaired: The Bill of Rights Annulled

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Reason to be afraid #3:

The separation of powers established by the Constitution is eroding.

Rights guaranteed by constitutional amendments are becoming irrelevant. Reporting a crime may be a crime, and informing the public of the truth is treason.

Here in post-Snowden America, the language and the principles of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution sound almost quaint:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.41

The amendment, however, has an abiding intention and a context that are not-so-quaint. In the American colonies, it was an unpopular yet common practice of the British government to issue general search warrants for tax collection purposes. Law enforcement authorities and customs officials searched whole towns, house by house, in an effort to identify every taxable possession or activity. This practice was—and is—easily recognizable as the conduct of a tyrannical government, which gives law enforcement the sweeping authority to search anyone at any time for any reason. Or for no reason at all.

 

Chapter 4: Zombie Bill: The Corporate Security Campaign That Will Not Die

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Reason to be afraid #4:

The government-corporate surveillance complex is consolidating. What has been a confidential but informal collaboration now seeks to legalize its special status.

July 9, 2012, was a scorcher in Washington, DC, with afternoon temperatures over 100 degrees, when an audience of about fifty think-tankers convened in a third-floor briefing room of the Senate’s Russell Office Building on Capitol Hill. Then-Senator John Kyl sponsored the show, although he did not appear in person. He had invited the American Center for Democracy (ACD) and the Economic Warfare Institute (EWI) to explore the topic of “Economic Warfare Subversions: Anticipating the Threat.”

At the front of the room, under a swag of the heavy red draperies and the American flag, sat the panel. The lineup was peculiar. The speakers, waiting for the audience to settle in, included a number of very big names from the intelligence community, including General Michael Hayden, by this time the former director of both the CIA and the NSA; James Woolsey, former CIA director; and Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General for George W. Bush.

 

Chapter 5: Financial Reform: Dead on Arrival

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Reason to be afraid #5:

Financial reforms enacted after the crisis are inoperable and ineffective because of inadequate investigations and intensive corporate lobbying.

Let’s consider national security for a moment. This isn’t as simple as it sounds because we’re not sure what—exactly—anyone means by national security. Assuming we’re talking about the planning and actions needed to ensure a stable future for the United States, the phrase should include the need to address threats to both our economic and our political systems.

If you’re attending Senate briefings held by the Economic Warfare Institute, you will assume that the most serious threat to national security is the possibility of a hack attack on our banking system by unspecified enemies. In contrast, if you happened to miss the EWI events, and instead you’re looking at the value of your 401k while wondering why your savings accrue 0 percent interest year after year, you’ll know that the management and finance pros inside the banking system itself are the more likely danger. They are the people we ought to be scared of.

 

Chapter 6: Prosecution Deferred: Justice Denied

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Reason to be afraid #6:

Systemic corruption and a fundamental conflict of interest are driving us toward the precipice of new economic crises.

In the early spring of 2010, my phone rang, and the caller ID read “Unknown.” On the other end of the line was an AIG whistleblower. Until the 2008 financial crisis, AIG was a rogue elephant in the zoo of the US financial world, unknown to most Americans. After that, though, everyone who read a newspaper knew what AIG was. AIG Financial Products Division (AIG-FP), the London-based unit that took on the risk for the Wall Street banks, became a familiar villain in the developing story of fraud and corruption underlying the Great Recession of 2008–2009.

My caller spoke tentatively at first, without specifics, as cautious whistleblowers do, but she was concerned about the way in which the AIG compliance office at corporate headquarters worked. This was the office responsible for ensuring that the huge insurer did not break the law in any one of the 145 or so countries where it operated.

 

Chapter 7: The New Regime

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World domination is not easy. Sometimes, even your closest allies and strongest supporters are not really backing you up. For example, SAIC, Booz Allen, and the others want contracts for defense work (cyber and otherwise) to support the American empire. At the same time, senior managers at the Pentagon, the NSA, and the CIA want them to have these contracts because SAIC, Booz Allen, and so forth offer lucrative pre- and post-retirement employment opportunities. Suppose, however, that the most efficient and effective work on cyber-defense can be done relatively inexpensively in-house. Then there’s a painful choice: a major contract for multiple billions and years to SAIC, with the vague promise of a huge cyber intelligence extravaganza of dubious legality ultimately in place. Or, a smaller-scale in-house operation that works better and costs much, much less?

The NSA has been going the first route rather than the second one for a while now. This is why intelligence has become staggeringly expensive. Like everything else produced by our economic system, SAIC concocts its surveillance programs in order to make money.

 

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