Opium, Wars, and the Surveillance State

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Professors Peter Dale Scott and Alfred W. McCoy are world-class authorities on the intersection of the National Security State with the global narcotics trade, and how this symbiotic relationship has shaped American foreign and domestic policy.  Scott’s incisive LRC article today on Opium and the CIA, as well as McCoy’s crucial analysis of the Opium Wars in Afghanistan, make for powerful reading in regards to what I have previously described at LRC as “Hidden History:  Where Organized Crime and Government Meet.” Earlier this week I had the opportunity to privately discuss Professor McCoy’s Afghanistan article with him after he delivered the University of Tulsa’s Settle/Cadenhead Memorial Lecture, “The Surveillance State, Foreign Wars and the Rise of the U. S. Internal Security Apparatus.”  This fascinating presentation confirmed in spades everything I have learned from Garet Garrett, Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul, Chalmers Johnson, and Stephen Kinzer about the American Imperial State — about the decline of the republic and the rise of empire.   McCoy outlined the birth of the Surveillance State in the information technology revolution of the 1870s and 1880s (invention of the telephone, typewriter, widespread photographic film processing, electrical and telegraph networks, punch cards, and biometrics such as fingerprinting) and its later convergence with the imperatives of empire in the American colonial occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.

It was during the Philippine Insurrection that modern police and military intelligence techniques and data collection technology emerged, later becoming the key component of the National Security State.  McCoy particularly pointed to the ongoing seminal role Ralph Henry Van Deman played in this process.  His spell-binding presentation was largely based upon his two recent books, Policing the Empire:  The United States, The Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State; and Colonial Crucible:  Empire in the Making of the Modern American State, edited by McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano.  Dr. McCoy, in our conversation, also alluded to his upcoming article on the drug-drenched dictators Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai (which appeared today).  It too is must reading.

6:35 pm on April 15, 2010
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