They'll Be Watching You: Welcome to Our Post-9/11 National Security State


>According to "Monitoring America," the Washington Post's chilling account of ubiquitous and inescapable domestic surveillance, the Pennsylvania Tea Party Patriots Coalition was among the groups targeted by our dangerously idiotic, intrusive, and unaccountable intelligence bureaucracy. I'd like to think this news might encourage Tea Partiers to consider protesting the national security state along with tax increases when they protest big government, but I'm not hopeful. Instead I expect that they'll blame the allegedly left-wing Barack Obama, instead of the security apparatus he inherited, extended, and will bequeath to the next president, of either party.

The post-9/11 national security state described by the Washington Post in its invaluable series seems more powerful and more independent of politics than the presidency, which doesn't absolve either Bush or Obama for creating and administering this behemoth but does suggest that, like Dr. Frankenstein, they've spawned a monster that can't be controlled. Not that Congress, much less the administration or local officials who feed off Homeland Security Department grants have demonstrated any interest in controlling it.

Voters seem equally unlikely to rise up in significant numbers and protest the surveillance that's supposedly protecting them. Indeed, the FBI is depending on us to inform on each other instead: It is "building a database with the names and certain personal information ... of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously." (In other words, if you're mad at your neighbor, tell your local constabulary that he acts like a terrorist.) Janet Napolitano likens Homeland Security's spying network to "the Cold War fight against communists," apparently oblivious to her own complicity in establishing a repressive, collectivist, bi-partisan society of informants that would have made Cold War-era villains proud.  

We're creating precisely the society we're supposed to oppose, surrendering not just privacy and freedom but individual agency and the potential for political action. How could we take action against a vast, virtually omniscient bureaucracy shrouded behind its "state secrets" and an invisible surveillance apparatus? As I've said before (and will probably have occasion to say again) the private lives of individual citizens are almost entirely transparent, while the security state is almost entirely opaque.  Has warfare between Americans and their government ever been so asymmetrical?

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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