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Surveillance and Scandal

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Posted on Jan 20, 2014

By Alfred McCoy, TomDispatch

(Page 5)

Given the acute sensitivity of executive communications, world leaders have reacted sharply to reports of NSA surveillance—with Chancellor Merkel demanding Five-Eyes-exempt status for Germany, the European Parliament voting to curtail the sharing of bank data with Washington, and Brazil’s President Rousseff canceling a U.S. state visit and contracting a $560 million satellite communications system to free her country from the U.S.-controlled version of the Internet.       

The Future of U.S. Global Power

By starting a swelling river of NSA documents flowing into public view, Edward Snowden has given us a glimpse of the changing architecture of U.S. global power. At the broadest level, Obama’s digital “pivot” complements his overall defense strategy, announced in 2012, of reducing conventional forces while expanding into the new, cost-effective domains of space and cyberspace.

While cutting back modestly on costly armaments and the size of the military, President Obama has invested billions in the building of a new architecture for global information control. If we add the $791 billion expended to build the Department of Homeland Security bureaucracy to the $500 billion spent on an increasingly para-militarized version of global intelligence in the dozen years since 9/11, then Washington has made a $1.2 trillion investment in a new apparatus of world power.

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So formidable is this security bureaucracy that Obama’s recent executive review recommended the regularization, not reform, of current NSA practices, allowing the agency to continue collecting American phone calls and monitoring foreign leaders into the foreseeable future. Cyberspace offers Washington an austerity-linked arena for the exercise of global power, albeit at the cost of trust by its closest allies—a contradiction that will bedevil America’s global leadership for years to come.

To update Henry Stimson: in the age of the Internet, gentlemen don’t just read each other’s mail, they watch each other’s porn. Even if we think we have nothing to hide, all of us, whether world leaders or ordinary citizens, have good reason to be concerned.

Alfred McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, which is the source for much of the material in this essay.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars—The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Alfred W. McCoy


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