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Empire's Useful Idiots: Tom Friedman and Other Pundits Sucking Up to the State

Why, our pundits wonder, should we be disturbed by our state's desire to know everything that everyone does?
 
 
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It's a fine thing to see mainstream American media outlets finally sparing some of their attention toward the cyber-industrial complex – that unprecedented conglomeration of state, military and corporate interests that together exercise growing power over the flow of information. It would be even more heartening if so many of the nation's most influential voices, from senator to pundits, were not clearly intent on killing off even this belated scrutiny into the invisible empire that so thoroughly scrutinizes us – at our own expense and to unknown ends.

Summing up the position of those who worry less over secret government powers than they do over the whistleblowers who reveal such things, we have  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who argues that we can trust small cadres of unaccountable spies with broad powers over our communications. We must all wish Friedman luck with this prediction. Other proclamations of his – including that Vladimir Putin would bring transparency and liberal democracy to Russia, and that the Chinese regime would not seek to limit its citizens' free access to the internet – have not aged especially well.

An unkind person might dismiss Friedman as the incompetent harbinger of a dying republic. Being polite, I will merely suggest that Friedman's faith in government is as misplaced as faith in the just and benevolent God that we know not to exist – Friedman having been the winner of several of the world's most-coveted Pulitzer Prizes.

If Friedman is, indeed, too quick to trust the powerful, it's a trait he shares with the just over half of Americans, who tell pollsters they're fine with the  NSA programs that were until recently hidden from their view. Why, our countrymen wonder, ought we to be disturbed by our state's desire to know everything that everyone does? Given the possibility that this  surveillance could perhaps prevent deaths in the form of terrorist attacks, most Americans are willing to forgo some abstract notion of privacy in favor of the more concrete benefits of security.

Besides, the government to which we're ceding these broad new powers is a democracy, overseen by real, live Americans. And it's hard to imagine American government officials abusing their powers – or at least, it would be, had such officials not already abused similar but more limited powers through repeated campaigns of disinformation, intimidation and airtight crimes directed at the American public over the last five decades.  Cointelpro, Operation Mockingbird, Ultra and Chaos are among the now-acknowledged  CIAFBI and NSA programs by which those agencies managed to subvert American democracy with impunity. Supporters of mass surveillance conducted under the very same agencies have yet to address how such abuses can be insured against in the context of powers far greater than anything J Edgar Hoover could command.

Many have never heard of these programs; the sort of people who trust states with secret authority tend not to know what such things have led to in the recent past. Those who do know of such things may perhaps contend that these practices would never be repeated today. But it was just two years ago that the late  Michael Hastings revealed that US army officials in Afghanistan were conducting psy-ops against visiting US senators in order to sway them towards continued funding for that unsuccessful war. If military and intelligence officials have so little respect for the civilian leadership, one can guess how they feel about mere civilians.

Not that anyone need merely guess. Discussing the desirability of such "information operations" in  his 2001 book, retired USAF Lt Col George Crawford noted that voters tend to view these sorts of programs with suspicion. "Consequently," he concludes, "these efforts must take place away from public eyes."

 
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