A Philosopher's Blog

Building the Police State

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 28, 2013
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....

“Up in your business”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up in the Cold War and watching movies about WWII I absorbed the lesson that authoritarian police states spied on their citizens and had no regard for the freedom of the press. In the West, or so I was raised to believe, the government did not spy on the people and respected our freedoms. That sort of behavior was for the bad guys—the Nazis and the Reds. Those of us in the white hats, well, we were a better sort.

As I grew up, I learned that our white hats were not quite so white. But, I still believed that domestic spying was fairly limited and that the press was mostly free. As technology changed, I was sure that domestic spying increased—after all, when people have the means, they are very good at finding reasons to use those means. After 9/11 I was quite sure that domestic spying had significantly increased and I heard about various programs involving big data. Still, the revelations of Prism were mildly surprising in terms of the scale of the data gathering and the blatant disregard of privacy rights and, of course, ethics.

In Prism and other such programs, the United States has a spying program that the Nazis and Reds only dreamed of—what amounts to a technological panopticon that scoops up massive data on everyone. While the claim is that the data is only used in accord with the law and is used for national security against terrorists, the fact remains that it is an incredibly powerful tool that could easily be used against citizens. Interestingly, the gun-rights folks were terrified of something as bush league as a Federal list of firearms. Prism and other programs should horrify them—and us as well.

I do not entertain any paranoid fantasies about black helicopters or vast conspiracies involving the Illuminati. I do not need to—this sort of vast system of spying is quite real as its potential for misuse. After all, by the iron law of technology, any technology that can be misused will be misused.

The folks in power almost certainly will want to expand on the use of these sort of police state systems. As proof, the main use of many of the legal tools generated for the war on terror has been in the realm of police work—typically involving drugs. It certainly makes sense that the police and others will see this data as too useful to not use. There is also the tendency of those in power to want to gather information and more power—these systems fit right into the usual pattern. This will not, of course, result in the sort of overnight take-over so popular in fiction, but the usual gradual erosion of privacy and rights.

One recent and dramatic example of the expanding police state was the British detention of journalist David Miranda. The justification was, as should be expected these days, laws relating to terror. These laws seem to be amazingly broad and apparently allow the state to do almost as it wishes, provided the words “national security” and “terrorism” are properly invoked. In addition to detaining and interrogating Miranda, the police also seized his property on the grounds that he might be carrying secrets. Miranda has no known connections to any actual terrorists—he is merely a journalist who has been working on the story about Snowden and the NSA.

The British government also leaned on the Guardian to pressure them into handing over the information the paper received from Snowden. Based on the information from Snowden, the Guardian claimed that the GCHQ used NSA data from Prism to illegally spy on British citizens. This has been denied by the government, but the claim certainly does have considerable plausibility.

On the one hand, a case can be made that the governments of the United States and Britain have been acting correctly: they are trying to keep their citizens safe and need to act against whistleblowers and journalists in order to preserve the secrets needed for national security.

On the other hand, it seems reasonable to believe that the governments are acting wrongly. The United States has set up a massive privacy violating spying program in response to the incredibly minor threat of terrorism. The United States and Britain have evoked the boogey man of terror and the magic words “national security” in what appears to be an attempt to conceal misdeeds and illegalities. The British have also engaged in what seems to be coercive tactics against journalists and the Guardian. That is to say, that the West is acting rather like the bad guys of my youth.

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  1. Douglas Moore said, on August 28, 2013 at 8:37 am

    “In Prism and other such programs, the United States has a spying program that the Nazis and Reds only dreamed of—what amounts to a technological panopticon that scoops up massive data on everyone. While the claim is that the data is only used in accord with the law and is used for national security against terrorists, the fact remains that it is an incredibly powerful tool that could easily be used against citizens. Interestingly, the gun-rights folks were terrified of something as bush league as a Federal list of firearms. Prism and other programs should horrify them—and us as well”

    As a practicing member of military intelligence, I can swear on a stack of copies of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” that I have never seen or heard of any information or intelligence being directly collected from or used against a US citizen. Minus sworn members of al-Qaeda. Here is the extent to which the Army went to ensure it wasn’t collecting in US citizens: One time in Germany a civilian employee was suspected of not going to work when she should. In other words, collecting pay for times she was not actually at work. There was a turnstile a that recorded who passed into a secure area. Her bosses wanted to check the records to see if she had passed into her work area through the turnstile, but did not because this may be considered “collecting” on a US citizen. The thought had not even crossed my mind, and I still don’t think this is “collecting” but it shows you how concerned many are with overstepping boundaries.

    “Prism and other programs should horrify them—and us as well.”

    One thing that’s bothered me about the Snowden case is the outrage over something we’ve known for decades. One reason people are outraged is because they have little idea of how the system actually works. There is simply no new news here. The old system was called “Echelon”. Books written on the subject are decades old: James Bamford’s, “The Puzzle Palace” and “The Shadow Factory”. Old stuff.

    Next is the idea that this can be abused. Of course it can. As a cop, I could take my government issued handgun and go rob a grocery store with it. I could rough up some people and steal their wallets. My uniform and authority offered the chance to abuse both.

    If we are to argue that these systems could be misused and thus should be outlawed, then we should argue that the police should be outlawed because they could be misused. There is a near infinite number of ways to misuse government arms. What should be controlled are the actual misuses, The misuse of local police authority has much more effect on the average American’s life than the NSA.

    I like to think that I am not justifying this merely because I work in intelligence. All of these systems were in place before I joined, and were in place decades prior.

    I’d dare say that none of our emails have ever been read by the government..

    • T. J. Babson said, on August 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

      The military has a well-defined command structure and clear lines of authority and accountability.

      The NSA has none of these things. The NSA cannot even tell what information Snowden had access to. One NSA member was recently fired for refusing to lie to Congress.

      The NSA is out of control and needs to have its feathers trimmed.

      • Douglas Moore said, on August 28, 2013 at 9:32 am

        I’m for government accountability, in all government. But should we get rid of the Prism program? I don’t know, but welcome others’ ideas. But first we should establish clearly what the program does and does not do. I can say that the SIGINT community is elitist and hypersensitive under the pretext of sources and methods, even when it comes to sharing info with other arms of military intelligence.

        All SIGINT collection falls under the auspices of the NSA, even Army collection. I do agree that the NSA is probably not accountable enough. And that they are elitist technocrats. But generally they have no desire to violate rights. To me, what the IRS did in targeting conservative groups was was more grievous than the NSA oversteps I know of. It’s my educated guess that the NSA still attracts more people with nationalist and patriotic sentiments and wishing to protect Americans than does the IRS. I’ve talked to IRS people and some of them view US citizens as the enemy, always trying to steal government money.

      • Douglas Moore said, on August 28, 2013 at 9:41 am

        And might I also add, that what we are endanger of, in my opinion, is not merely a menacing police state, but a state that is both menacing AND ineffective at doing what states should do. The Obama administration has become the worst of both worlds. We have all but ceased to control our borders, are still giving visas to Islamic radicals, yet give US citizens the impression that the government is hunting them.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on August 28, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Here is an example, Magus. This is unacceptable.

    Spend enough time online, and you’ll find someone who believes that because the National Security Agency exists solely to keep Americans safe, it would never do anything it absolutely didn’t need to do in order to fulfill its mission. “Even if it did,” argue defenders of government spying, “I have nothing to hide.”

    If you believe that’s really the case, recall that shortly before Sen. Obama was elected president, ABC News reported that military interceptors working for the NSA listened to troops’ private conversations with loved ones back home, and would gather as a group to listen to especially salacious calls:

    [F]ormer Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk, 39, said he and his fellow intercept operators listened into hundreds of Americans picked up using phones in Baghdad’s Green Zone from late 2003 to November 2007.

    Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of “cuts” that were available on each operator’s computer.

    “Hey, check this out,” Faulk says he would be told, “there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy’,” Faulk told ABC News.

    Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall’s “smoke pit,” but ended up feeling badly about his actions.

    Read the whole thing here, via The Atlantic Wire. And remember, so long as there’s a potential for abuse, abuse will happen.

    http://reason.com/blog/2013/06/10/remember-that-time-the-nsa-listened-to-u

    • Douglas Moore said, on August 28, 2013 at 10:31 am

      Yes, it is. But all it would take is some moral courage on a low level worker’s part to stop it. Snowden and Manning did it because they were picked last in kickball, and mad at the world. Listen to the testimony here, by Faulk and the female. When asked if she “pulled the plug”, and stopped listening, she says she didn’t. Yet, she blames the NSA.

      • T. J. Babson said, on August 28, 2013 at 11:06 am

        “Snowden and Manning did it because they were picked last in kickball…”

        We have known people like Snowden and Manning all our lives. Misfits, basically.

        But what does it say about the people running things that Snowden and Manning had access to such vast troves of classified information?

        Can you read this and believe that the people running the NSA have a clue?

        While collecting data Edward Snowden was able to evade all safeguards at the NSA, leaving the agency puzzled at how he did it, according to new report. Officials worry that the ease with which he covered his tracks means another breach could happen.

        Information logs exist to tell the government who tried to view or copy classified information without the proper clearance, but Snowden appears to have bypassed or deleted them, while working as a system administrator with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii. The revelations come from government officials speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as they were prevented from publicly disclosing new information about the Snowden case.

        This is a worrying development for the Obama administration, which has been at pains to prove to the American public that the NSA’s computer system cannot be taken advantage of so easily. Therefore, if Snowden could single-handedly circumvent its cyber defenses, the question stands as to who else can gain instant access to the vast stream of data the clandestine organization intercepts every day.

        http://rt.com/news/snowden-nsa-safeguards-logs-943/

  3. T. J. Babson said, on August 28, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Kind of like what happened with the rodeo clown. Both characteristic of police states.

    Picture the scene: a quiet moment between Russian president Vladimir Putin and his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. A momentary intersection between two lives made busy–so busy–by the hard work of government. Medvedev has just put his bra back on. He is disheveled. Putin grabs a comb and runs it lazily through his deputy’s hair. Medvedev’s eyes firmly engage the viewer, but Putin looks oddly to one side. What is he looking at? Perhaps his eye falls upon the Romanov Tercentenary Egg on his desk, adorned with portrait miniatures of the dynasty.

    For the first time, they seem to gaze back at him, no longer lost within Fabergé’s gilded relic. Putin no longer sees their deaths in his mind’s eye, that invigorating minute in Yekaterinburg. Now he hears only their voices, the whispers that wake him. Though both men creep toward the threshold of the golden afternoon, the evening is yet young.

    Alas, this delightful set-piece is no more: police raided the gallery and took it away without a word of explanation.

    http://boingboing.net/2013/08/28/russian-police-seize-putin-me.html

  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on August 28, 2013 at 11:22 am

    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” ~ John Adams

    A nation of peoples who have foolishly abandoned Morality and Self Control in pursuit of Progress and Liberty, which, in reality, are nothing but Rebellion and Licentiousness, require a police state in order to control them.

    We can be self governed, or we can be government from without.

    There are no other choices.

    We have the police state we deserve.

    “Liberalism, by the inner dynamic of its logic, was forced to become an instrument of social control in order to avoid the chaos which it created by its own erosion of tradition and morals. Democratic man could not be left to his own devices; chaos would result. The logic was clear. If there is no God, there can be no religion; if there is no religion, there can be no morals; if there are no morals, there can be no self-control; if there is no self-control, there can be no social order; if there is no social order, there can be nothing but the chaos of competing desire. But we cannot have chaos, so therefore we must institute behavioral control in place of the traditional structures of the past — tradition, religion, etc. Abolishing tradition, religion and morals and establishing “scientific” social control are one and the same project.” ~ E. Michael Jones, Libido Dominandi – Sexual Liberation and Political Control

    VIDEO – Libido Dominandi Sexual Liberation as Political Slavery – http://youtu.be/ntFLjJbxLiU

    BOOK – Libido Dominandi Sexual Liberation as Political Slavery – http://www.amazon.com/Libido-Dominandi-Liberation-Political-Control/dp/1587314657

    The Revival of the Moloch State

    “We have seen so far that when the true God is banished from man’s society, new gods rush in to replace him… A normal development of the worship of pagan gods was the creation of a divine state that rested on a theology of continuity, that is, on the denial of the Creator-creature distinction. The pagan theocratic state could take the lives of its children, or any members, as a sacrifice to the god of the state. The worshippers of Moloch ordered their sons and daughters to pass through the fire as a form of sacrifice and testing…

    “Rousas Rushdoony gives a description of the “Moloch state”:

    “While relatively little is known of Moloch, much more is known of the concept of divine kingship, the king as god, and the god as king, as the divine-human link between heaven and earth. The god-king represented man on a higher scale, man ascended, and the worship of such a god, i.e., of such a Baal, was the assertion of the continuity of heaven and earth. It was the belief that all being was one being, and the god therefore was an ascended man on that scale of being. The power manifested in the political order was thus a manifestation or apprehension and seizure of divine power. It represented the triumph of a man and of his people. Moloch worship was thus a political religion… Moloch worship was thus state worship. The state was the true and ultimate order, and religion was a department of the state. The state claimed total jurisdiction over man; it was therefore entitled to total sacrifice.”

    “Now a religious, pagan state that claims total jurisdiction over man is a state directed by demons through the actions of rulers who justify their tyranny by having recourse to their Moloch god. Such a state provides its subjects not with law and justice, but with order — a man-centered, oppressive, demonic order. It begets a totalitarian state…

    “Because of this apostasy [from the true God] the relentless advance of the icecap of secularism in America has produced a heartless, affectless society in which nobody cares for anyone but himself, for anything but instant self-gratification. In a society that seeks sex without love, violence for the thrill of it, drugs for the get-away-from-it-all trip, the sensibilities of citizens are blunted…

    “Here is a nation that has usurped the power of God over life and death. In the name of its new secular gods, Progress and Liberty, titles that are false fronts for Rebellion and Licentiousness, many formerly Christian nations are driving their sons and daughters through the demonic fires of sacrificial murder…

    “Such brutalized states with their corrupted institutions, abandon citizens to the scourges of drugs, street terrors, broken homes, schools of scandals and, in general, to a coarse, venal, profligate quality of life, a life of fear and loneliness.” ~ Fr Vincent Miceli, S.J., “The Antichrist” (1981; pp. 246 – 248)

    See: Fr Vincent Miceli, S.J., “The Antichrist” – http://www.amazon.com/Antichrist-S-J-Vincent-P-Miceli/dp/0912141026 

    See: R. J. Rushdoony, “The Institutes of Biblical Law” – http://chalcedon.edu/store/Biblical+Law/the-institutes-of-biblical-law-three-volume-set/

  5. T. J. Babson said, on August 28, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    You won’t like this Magus, but do you think it is good advice?

  6. Douglas Moore said, on August 28, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    In general, yes, I think it’s good advice. But I can think of several occasions that I would talk to the police. If someone breaks into my home and harms a member of my family at night, and I call the police, I should give the police a description and direction of travel of the suspect if I happened to see them. He does make it sound like police officers have no interest in finding out who is actually guilty of crimes.

    • WTP said, on August 29, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      He does make it sound like police officers have no interest in finding out who is actually guilty of crimes.


      Sorry to say, but in many cities, especially the bigger ones, I’ve found this to more likely be the case. Though I do understand to some extent the frustrations of such LEOs.

      • Douglas Moore said, on August 29, 2013 at 2:07 pm

        There’s a second video to this series in which a career LEO says he’s made thousands of arrests and had a 98% conviction rate. This must have something to do with arresting the right people. I’ve stated in other places that when I worked, it was overwhelmingly obvious in most cases as to who committed a given crime.

        There are way too many stupid, petty laws however. Those laws hurt LEOs because they degrade respect for the law. I remember LEOs in Penn. protesting over increased speeding fines, because it hurt the public’s view of them.

        I left law enforcement for several reasons.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 30, 2013 at 8:32 am

          True. Also, the laws that are not enforced should (generally) not be on the books. If a law is worth keeping, then it is worth enforcing. And if it is not worth enforcing, it should be removed. Otherwise it contributes to the decay of law.

  7. T. J. Babson said, on August 29, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    What a bunch of clowns.

    Edward Snowden accessed some secret national security documents by assuming the electronic identities of top NSA officials, said intelligence sources.

    “Every day, they are learning how brilliant [Snowden] was,” said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the case. “This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble.”

    Snowden was a Honolulu-based employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor. His job gave him system administrator privileges on the NSA’s intranet, NSAnet. He reportedly used his privileges to download 20,000 documents.

    The NSA still doesn’t know exactly what Snowden took. But its forensic investigation has included trying to figure out which higher level officials Snowden impersonated online to access the most sensitive documents.

    http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/29/20234171-snowden-impersonated-nsa-officials-sources-say?lite

    • Douglas Moore said, on August 30, 2013 at 3:33 am

      It’s “brilliant” to type in someone else’s ID and password?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 30, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Brilliant hirelings usually don’t get government agencies into trouble. The non-brilliant people who set policies that are unethical and unconstitutional do that.


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