Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many governments have used the “war on terror” to take away people’s civil liberties and introduce repressive laws. In Kenya, lawful protests against the government have been described as acts of treason or terrorism by some politicians and there have been attempts to muzzle press freedom in the name of counterterrorism.
In the United States, the terrorist bogeyman has been used to conduct mass surveillance and to spy on civilians through mobile phones and the internet, as the whistleblower Edward Snowden has revealed.
These activities are clearly unconstitutional and violate the US Bill of Rights, but they are tolerated because the American public has been made to feel sufficiently afraid to not ask too many questions. We now know that the US spies on its allies as well as its enemies.
If German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone can be bugged, what can stop US intelligence agencies from bugging everybody else’s phone and reading their emails and text messages? And how many telecommunications corporations have willingly helped these agencies to spy on their customers?
In The Rise of the American Corporate Security State, Beatrice Edwards, the executive director of the Washington-based Government Accountability Project, shows how the withdrawal of Americans’ rights, including their right to privacy, has been accomplished because Americans have been repeatedly told that they are facing imminent danger. Americans have thus willingly surrendered their civil rights because they are frightened. This clampdown on civil rights intensified during George W. Bush’s administration but became more secretive under Barack Obama’s.
The nexus between government and big corporations was also strengthened. The war on terrorism has been extremely lucrative for private corporations providing security and intelligence services. Edwards believes that clandestine electronic warfare is not going to go away any time soon as the business of intelligence has proved to be extremely profitable for certain corporations.
US corporations and the US intelligence agencies are bedfellows in the deal. What is worse, because this war is silent and invisible, Americans do not know where or when it is being waged. This is a truly chilling scenario.
TARGETS OF INTENSE MANHUNTS
Since 9/11, the United States has spent more than $500 billion on intelligence, of which 70 per cent is spent on contracts with private corporations. And because security contracts are deemed to be “secret” in the interest of national security, no one knows what the money is spent on. In Kenya, as we saw in the Anglo Leasing scandal, sometimes the money ends up in shell companies where taxpayers’ money is siphoned to private individuals, away from public scrutiny.
Edwards shows how increasing budgets for security and intelligence agencies have coincided with greater protection for rogue bankers and financial institutions, as happened during the 2008 financial crisis.
While Al-Qaeda leaders became the targets of intense manhunts, illegal detention and execution, the millionaires who made thousands of people homeless and crashed the economy got away scot-free. What is worse, the US government came up with a plan to avert their collapse. Meanwhile, whistleblowers such as Snowden were deemed traitors for exposing unconstitutional and illegal surveillance of civilians around the world.
When Obama became president, the American public believed that the US government would focus on the economy and scale down its wars and counterterrorism operations. However, while Obama did bring back troops from Iraq, as he promised, the war on terrorism became more clandestine. He increased the use of drones that targeted suspected terrorists (which also led to several deaths of innocent civilians, including children) and continued with mass electronic surveillance. Yet despite the billions spent on intelligence and security, groups such as the Islamic State have still managed to take root.
Edwards admits that Obama is not entirely to blame for this state of affairs because every US president is hostage to the big corporations and to what she calls “the Deep State”, a rogue branch of the US government that does not respond to the president, Congress, or the courts. She says that the real struggle that Americans and the world faces is not about privacy versus security but about democracy versus tyranny.
When large numbers of people around the world willingly give up their rights and freedoms in the name of counterterrorism, they create the perfect conditions for the emergence of dictatorship.