News good & bad about the fantastic growth of America’s security services.

Summary: We need a sense of proportion when reading the news to avoid being swept away by euphoria on Monday, by despair by Tuesday, and by Friday having forgotten the reasons for both. Today we look at the growth of our police and domestic intelligence services, attempting to put them in perspective with both our history, our present threats, and probable future.  Share your thoughts in the comments.  (2nd of 2 posts today.}

A flag burning


  1. The Bad News.
  2. The Worse News.
  3. The Worst News.
  4. For More Information

(1)  The Bad News

We’ve expanded the security services at all levels (local, State, Federal), militarizing their equipment and methods. For example there are more armed Federal agents and more Federal SWAT teams, mirroring the expansion at the local and State levels. Plus a massive expansion of their surveillance machinery.  Yet the past 14 years provide almost no evidence that this provided any benefit to America.

Excellent investigative journalism by Trevor Aaronson at The Intercept brings us “The Sting: How the FBI Created a Terrorist“. It’s yet another in a long series of exposes since 9/11 showing how the US security services (no longer “law enforcement agencies”) manufacture threats to keep us frightened. To keep us passive like rabbits as our rights are eroded, and to keep their budgets large and growing.  {For more about this see The US government sponsored jihadist menace.)

Another example is the NY Police Department’s tri-state surveillance of Muslims. Documented over 2 years by the AP; challenged by the ACLU, and (almost inevitably) ruled just fine by the government’s tame judges.

On a larger scale we have the network of over 70 Fusion Centers created by the Department of Homeland Security, providing lavish quarters for multi-agency teams to gather information and produce intelligence. Numerous reports document their near-total ineffectiveness, since there is so little terrorist activity in the US. The latest is a 141-page report by the Senate, which concluded that they have produce mostly “shoddy, untimely and often useless intelligence reports that have done little to keep the U.S. safe.

None of this affects the bulk of Americans, who get their worldview from watching Fox News and TV shows like NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles — where the doings of evil rag-heads always threaten our way of life.

In one sense this is good news, since all these billions of dollars cannot find more serious threats. From another perspective government waste of our money, growth of pointless bureaucracy, slow erosion of our rights, government fear-mongering — these are business as usual in America since WWI (e.g., the Espionage Act of 1917, the Palmer Raids).

Aiyana Stanley Jones
Aiyana Stanley Jones, age 11 when killed by police while sleeping.

(2)  The Worse News

The bad news is that a new phase appears to have begun in America. One symptom is an apparent increase in police brutality accompanying their militarization. The brutal killing of 12-year-old Tamar Rice. Aiyana Stanley Jones, a sleeping 7-year-old girl shot in head during no-knock police raid on the wrong home.  Bounkham Phonesavah (19 months old) severely burned by police ‘Grenade’ dropped in crib during a drug raid (police made no arrests, nor did they find anything illegal at the house during the raid; the county refused to pay the baby’s medical bills). Many mentally ill people executed for dubious reasons, often with no crimes committed.

Bounkham Phonesavanh
Bounkham Phonesavanh

Since 2000 we, America, have increased the surveillance and oppression of minorities by police. That’s bad news, a roll-back of hard won progress since WWII. But it’s not unusual in America since the Civil War, which has seen many such periods amidst the overall slow progress.

See these posts about police brutality, especially Murder by police. If these incidents do not anger us, then what will? and How to Fund an American Police State (aka Weaponizing the Body Politic.

Pepper spray by police
Occupy Protest at UC Davis, 18 November 2011

(3)  The Worst News

I wonder if that’s the good news, that this is all business-as-usual.  However we saw this new “security” machinery at work to break the Occupy movement, which suggests a darker analysis.

Massive numbers of heavily armed police, aggressively deployed to suppress demonstrations (preceded by extensive police infiltration, often with agents provocateur). Extensive surveillance, so they understand the plans and people involved. Police brutality to discourage future protests. Followed by show trials to establish that the protestors started the violence.

Especially notice the pre-emptive nature of their actions. Police regard protestors of all kinds as a contagion to be suppressed — potential criminals, against which they array massive force — with physical barriers to limit the infection’s spread.

These measures work because the State has the moral high ground. The public — consumers watching TV — nod while journalists repeat as gospel what officials say. A large fraction of the public grins with vicarious pleasure at videos of police cracking heads (bash those hippies).

Add it up. Our leaders have quietly built a machine of size and capability with few precedents in history. We’ve only seen it used in low gear. I suspect any reform movement will experience its full power, a greater push-back than that given to the 1960’s civil rights and anti-draft movements. It’s an important factor for planning, and can be overcome.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

For More Information

For more about this see Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (2014) and John T. Whitehead’s A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (2013).

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See these posts about police brutality, especially these posts about the sad fate of the Occupy movement:

Also see these lessons for the future: How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, Lessons from the failure of Occupy Wall Street, its lasting legacy, and How do protests like the TP and OWS differ from effective political action?

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