Predictably, President Obama has done nothing significant to diminish the National Security State. He presided over its expansion. Why should he want to undo it?
It’s a big mistake, however, in understanding the National Security State (NSS) and what to do about it to focus on Obama. The issue concerning the NSS is much deeper than one man, one president and a few terms of office.
Once we understand the NSS, we will see that it will only disappear in two cases. Either it falls when the American Empire falls, or it falls if Americans fundamentally rethink and change their entire government.
What is the NSS? We are offered this definition from the Oxford Dictionary of the US Military:
“A post-World War II state in which nearly all aspects of political, economic, intellectual, and social life are dominated by considerations of national defense and the drive to maintain a defense establishment capable of protecting the state against all comers.”
What this means is that the state’s organizations across all spheres (economic, political, social) are justified by and geared toward its overriding objective, which is security. The dominating forces will be both government and social institutions and pressures.
This in turn means that the country necessarily becomes more and more totalitarian in its quest to achieve its objective. In other words, we arrive at this definition, which is mine:
The National Security State (NSS) is a totalitarian state in which national security (or national defense) is the overriding aim and all aspects of society and government are organized to achieve that aim.
To understand the NSS, one must realize that while persons and personalities create and manage organizations and organizational growth, they do so in order to achieve certain organizational purposes that often pre-exist and outlive them. Furthermore, although an individual may be very important in a creative sense in advancing the organization and its objectives, another person typically could be found who would attend to the same aims of the organization. Thus, an Obama can replace a Bush who can replace a Clinton and so on, and all the while the NSS is intact and advancing. One Secretary of Defense can succeed another without any significant alteration in the thrust, existence or goals of the NSS. The particulars change but the general features of the NSS remain. The general features are an aspect of general ideas and general objectives that the organization and society are following. This is why in some sense the organization lives on through the efforts and common ideology of its ever-changing members. This is how the Catholic Church achieves continuity. It is how Cosa Nostra functioned. It is how the U.S. government functions. It is how America’s NSS functions.
Issues of organization are not well understood by the American public, by intellectuals or by the media. Too often they are ignored. Instead the focus is on persons and personalities. There is not going to be any fundamental change in the NSS until the issues involved are seen as tracing back to organizations that have been constructed and perpetuated as reflections of particular ideologies. And then there will be no change unless people either reject those ideologies or else the organizations fail because the ideologies are false and flawed.
In totalitarian countries, the State is not a single entity. Organizations within the State wield the various powers required to maintain the State’s spying, repression, taxation, imprisonment, propaganda, control of media, and education. Each of the State’s functions requires administration and organization. America has the National Security Agency (NSA) as one of its major spy agencies. It has a complex and increasingly nationally-controlled and influenced apparatus for repression, which includes the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police forces. It has the IRS for taxation. It has federal and state prison systems. The government dominates the media and has an army of public relations people it pays. The government increasingly influences science and intellectuals through funding.
These powerful organizations frequently start small or innocuously and later grow in power.
In Nazi Germany, the Schutzstaffel (meaning Protection Squadron or defense corps) was the infamous SS. It began as a small paramilitary unit that guarded the halls where the Nazis met. Later, it became one of the largest and most powerful organizations in the Third Reich.
Joseph Goebbels began in Hitler’s first administration with no office, but in time he was in the Cabinet overseeing a ministry of propaganda.
The NKVD was a powerful law enforcement agency of the Communist Party, which itself was already the most powerful organization within the State. It began as a people’s police in 1917 but very soon a secret police (the Cheka) separated out.
In ancient Italy, the Praetorian Guards were originally bodyguards who protected generals and important personages during the Republic. They eventually became a very powerful organization within the Roman Empire, making and breaking emperors.
The United States has the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and now the powerful National Security Agency (NSA). The origin of the National Security Agency (NSA) traces back to 1917. It officially began in 1952. It too started innocuously and then grew.
The NSA has turned America into a police state, but this could not have been done without the laws passed by the Congress, signed by the Executive and upheld by the Judiciary. The power of the NSA and the other organizations of the NSS derives from the State that passes laws to sustain them. If the people do not or can not halt the growth of these powers, the organizations grow in power. America’s NSS has been and continues to be a work-in-progress.
To get rid of America’s NSS, one must get rid of the NSA. We cannot expect any U.S. government leader to dismantle the NSA, when it is a key building block of both the American police state and the American Empire.
All of the American organizations mentioned are dangerous in the sense of threatening the freedom, security and well-being of the average American. However, many Americans think the opposite. They think that the NSS is enhancing their freedom, security and well-being. Many support the police state. Their support in fact is a critical factor in sustaining it. Other Americans do not recognize the threat. They think that somehow America differs from Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the Roman Empire. Many activists naively think that government can be controlled, tamed, or put to noble purposes, namely, their own. They too fail to understand the dangers inherent in these organizations.
In 1987, the U.S. formed the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This controls the U.S. Special Operations Forces in 134 different countries. These are military forces. This enormous global breadth and its functions as one of the Executive’s private forces, available and unaccountable for any number of uses, make it yet another dangerous organization. It has shown rapid growth.
The chief of SOCOM is proud that his organization has penetrated 38 other agencies in Washington:
“I have folks in every agency here in Washington, D.C. — from the CIA, to the FBI, to the National Security Agency, to the National Geospatial Agency, to the Defense Intelligence Agency.”
How can we Americans know that the organizations of the NSS are in fact threats to us, not benefits? One way is that we cannot control them. We cannot change them. They are like forces of nature to us. How can the people be conceived of as owning or operating the government under such a condition? They are also uncontrolled by Congress. They control key members of Congress, not the other way around.
Next, the accountability of the organizations of the NSS to both other agencies of government and to the people is nil. They stonewall Congress, lie or provide the least possible information, and even then it’s obtuse. Their operations are cloaked. They are kept secret. It has always been extremely difficult to know what the CIA, the NSA and SOCOM are doing.
Third, these organizations are impenetrable. They present a barrier to us as formidable as steel mesh. We cannot contend against them or fight them. Most Americans cannot keep up with the tax regulations of the IRS, much less know when SOCOM is leading them into another war. It’s one thing to write a letter to one’s Congressman or to pen an article, it’s quite another to get inside these organizations and expose them.
Fourth, we are told to take them on trust. We are told to trust authority for our own good. Why? Why should we trust a government that has behaved as irresponsibly as the U.S. government? Why should we trust a government that has lied so many times to us? Why should we trust a government that is so dominated by moneyed interests? Why trust a government that supplies narratives at variance with the facts, or alters its narratives contradictorily from one year to the next? Why should we trust an imperial Presidency?
These NSS organizations increasingly intrude on us, our privacy, and treat us all as suspects. It will take very little to transform them into a very nasty set of masters.
But the biggest lie of the NSS is that we Americans are faced with national security threats that make a totalitarian society essential for our own protection. This was never true in the 20th century, even in the presence of the Kaiser’s Germany, Hitler’s Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. There is a governmental Parkinson’s Law at work: The government manufactures threats so as to justify the expansion of its own organizations and resources. A fortiori, it is even less true in the 21st century that the country faces major threats.
And even if there were major national security threats to Americans, it is absurd to conclude that the country’s response should be to become totalitarian. What does that accomplish but directly undermining the domestic welfare and tranquility and creating domestic threats that may result in bloody civil disturbances and rebellions? How can America preserve its values of freedom and consent of the governed by destroying them?
Let me indulge in a generalization which is of course not true of everyone.
Americans are in a position analogous to a Mafia hit man or Mafia soldier. The soldier swears allegiance to his family, his boss and Cosa Nostra. He obeys every order given him. In return for his loyalty and obedience, he feels secure in the family. His own family will be taken care of if he is jailed or killed. A lawyer will be gotten him if he is accused or arrested. The Mafia soldier gives up freedom of action in return for a secure place in the family.
Americans are like the Mafia soldier. They pledge allegiance and obediently follow the government’s orders. In return, they feel more secure and protected. They hardly ever question what they are told to do or made to do, not in any serious or effective way. Laws are to be obeyed, like the orders handed down by the mob boss. And if you do not obey, you’re in for a lot of trouble in both cases. The organization has a way of enveloping its members.
But, and this is the fly in the ointment, what happens when the head of the family for whatever reason decides that the soldier must be eliminated or die? The boss has the power to do this and when it’s in his interest to do it, he will. He’ll cover it up so as not to disturb the other loyal soldiers, but he’ll eliminate someone if he is ordered to or decides himself to do it. What happens when the U.S. government decides for whatever reason that certain American should be jailed or that all Americans should be searched at airports or that certain Americans should be ordered into combat? What happens if the government decides to seize your assets or raise your taxes prohibitively? At that point, where is the security?
You cannot obtain security by giving yourself over to a superior power. You give up your freedom for certain and the security you obtain is at best at the pleasure of that superior power. Congress is the Cosa Nostra boss of America. Its bills when passed are law. It’s as simple as that. And because of that, Congress owns America and Americans.
Of all the institutions of the NSS, Congress is the most dangerous in terms of making laws and funding the NSS. The Presidency (Executive) of the United States is the most dangerous in terms of creating and running the institutions of the NSS.