Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Boston, our bloated surveillance state didn’t work

The subtext of the official state view and media coverage coming out of Boston over the last week carried a crucial message to the American public: It was a vindication of the Counter-Terrorism Surveillance State and its massive expenditures and the associated erosion of American constitutional liberties.

To that end, the several days since the bombing of the Boston Marathon showcased a mesmerizing display of reality television mediated by the unquestioning officiousness of the fourth estate. On vivid display was “proof through performance,” a validation that the laws passed and massive expenditures incurred over the last decade were essential to the state’s “protection of the public.”

Multiple banners flashed across the scene with short, exciting spins about the status of the manhunt for the bombing suspects; they were accompanied by endlessly repeated images of Boston and Watertown police, SWAT teams and FBI officers, all carrying a dazzling array of complicated weapons, bordered by police cars. There wasn’t a civilian in sight, since they all appeared to have accepted the “command” (which was in fact a request) to stay inside. These images alternated with breathless images of reporters “at the scene,” filibustering inanely, occasionally offering proud announcements about how they were asked to “move back” as the focus of the police search for the suspects shifted. It was as if they were children proudly reporting how they were asked by their teacher to help clean the blackboards.

The past decade has seen presidents, politicians — conservatives and liberals alike — champion preemptive policing laws such as the USA Patriot Act, FISA, NDAA 2012 and 2013, to Transportation Security Administration security practices and searches, to “See Something, Say Something” practices — all in service to fighting the War on Terror. As a cable-news talking head cooed Friday morning: “There are cameras and social media everywhere. There is nowhere to hide!” That statement seemed indisputable: store cameras, street cameras, private cellphone cameras and videos could be integrated to give an astonishingly wide record of the tens of thousands of people who were at last Monday’s event. Yet, the most important truth of that day seemed to be lost in the gush of self-congratulation: The explosion of the bombs confirmed that a massive extension of the surveillance-state did not protect people in Boston.

Remarkably, this message of the paramilitarized surveillance state was in no way challenged merely because it was inaccurate. By the time Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ended the “shelter in place” request, the second suspect had still not been found. Suddenly, the Boston public was supposed to believe that they were magically safer after the lockdown ended than before. But lest one come to conclude that this suggested a failure of the militant and closely watchful surveillance state, Rachel Maddow, Erin Burnett and other cable news heads happily rushed to its vindication by triumphantly exclaiming the insightful fruits of the years-long “See Something, Say Something” campaign by the Department of Homeland Security.

The rough description that the media had in common was this: A guy walked out to his boat to smoke a cigarette, saw something moving, and lifted the tarp — only to find the injured suspect. At which point, he retreated and called the police! Would the boat owner have acted differently prior to the “See Something, Say Something” campaign? Never mind.

Indeed, the vaunted magic of (decades-old) infrared technology, increased surveillance, and the absence of restraints on law enforcement, of this massive martial state could all be justified through the lens of the state itself, a breathless and supine media, and an ostensibly cowering but now relieved public. Yeah! The War on Terror is so successful! See?

But the show did not end there. As Erin Burnett crowed: “They took him alive! This proves that there is justice in America! Innocent till proven guilty.” Despite its nonsensical meaning, this oblique message was reiterated by the president, who cautioned us against a “rush to judgment” — certainly about groups of people. Apparently, “[t]hat’s why we have courts.” Hmmm. That’s going to be news to some folks still languishing in Cuba.

Not to be outdone by an illusory call for order by a president who has supported multiple renewals of FISA and pressured the Senate into approving an expansion of executive power to arrest and detain any suspected terrorist (U.S. citizen or foreign national) anywhere in the world (in NDAA 2012 and 2013), Sen. Lindsey Graham insisted that we were seeing proof that the homeland was the battlefield. And indeed, it’s hard to disagree with him — even if one is critical. Moreover, according to Graham and Sen. McCain, even a 19-year-old naturalized citizen (vaguely fingered as Chechnyan and Muslim) can and should be treated as an enemy combatant.

What further cements this view of the Homeland as a Battlefield is the public, collective and casual insistence that a 19-year old should not be read his Miranda rights — because an asserted “public safety exception” can be invoked in view of the fact that other IED’s or pressure-cooker bombs might have been set. With this, we are halfway to Alan Dershowitz’ favored fantasy: next, let’s torture him — because we “know” a bomb might be set somewhere by him that threatens to hurt Americans. However, shockingly, even Dershowitz refuses to be fear-mongered, arguing instead that the only logical outcome was a civilian trial, insisting that “it’s not even clear under the federal terrorism statute that this qualifies as an act of terrorism.”

Moreover, there was nearly no element of the recently reinforced surveillance state that contributed to the capture or killing these two suspects.

Full article: http://www.salon.com … ce_state_didnt_work/

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