There is a difference between a tyranny and a police state even though the two can work out to the same. The original police state arose in the Germanic kingdoms in the 1850s in the wake of the Europe-wide revolutions of 1848 a.k.a. Springtime of the Peoples. Since then the term has taken on so many meanings that last year when I turned to a study of the police state I couldn't make heads or tails of what one actually was.
So I went back to where it all started. Once on the solid ground of the police state's origins, which I learned about from sociologist Mathieu Deflem's revelatory paper International Policing in Nineteenth-Century Europe: The Police Union of German States, 1851-1866 (first published in 1996 in the International Criminal Justice Review), I was able to work up an objective definition of the term:
It's a government that in effect criminalizes the entire governed population. This, then, provides the state with a rationale to deploy draconian surveillance measures against the populace.
At the time I wrote about the issue for Pundita readers (September 16, 2013) I along with I think most Americans had yet to absorb all the issues connected with NSA files being released to the public. And so I assumed that while the United States was on track to becoming a police state it hadn't happened yet. But as the implications of the NSA surveillance programs became clearer and the rollout of NSA files continued I learned that by my own definition of the term the U.S. government had transformed into a police state during the previous five-seven years.
That is, it'd criminalized the American population although to be precise it had "pre-crimed" the population, holding it under potential suspicion of future criminal acts.
What's more the government was accomplishing what German police in the 1850s could only dream of doing: it was in effect criminalizing the entire world population. The goal was to surveil every single man, woman and child; to collect and store every utterance, every action, that could be picked up from any digital or electronic means.
By the new year it was evident from the rollout of NSA files that the policing hadn't stopped at collection and storage of data. The American government was using the data to carry out various types of clandestine cyber actions, not only against foreign governments it designated as enemies, but also against selected American citizens; i.e., those individuals the government considered troublesome or potentially so.
And so I began to cram on NSA and related issues. By now I've plowed through an estimated 3,500 scholarly papers, articles (including opinion) and news reports, and even this effort has barely made a dent. Yet despite the mountain of information available to the public it's still too early to attempt to encompass the situation. Glenn Greenwald's book isn't due for publication until the end of this month. Reportedly the book will reveal far more about the complicity of U.S. industries in setting up the police state than published so far. And Ed Snowden said just days ago that the worst revelations from the NSA files are yet to come.
Yet one thing is now clear. Years before the 9/11 attack the American police state was getting underway. The harbinger was Julian Assange's warning in 1998 about patents the NSA was taking out; in this, history was getting set to repeat itself as the Internet era geared up. The very actions by the Germanic monarchies in the early 1800s to 'socialize' government and education; i.e., to make them more accessible to the masses, had created many back-seat drivers and thousands more who were determined to outright grab the wheel of government.
Some of these dissidents and attempted usurpers were among a "radicalized impoverished intelligentsia," as Wikipedia's article on the Revolutions of 1848 in the Austrian Empire described them, who'd found no jobs on graduating from college. The tiny, unsophisticated German police forces found themselves on the pointy end of the stick when it came to wresting order from the mess. The British government turned out to be quite uncooperative in the effort to extend these attempts at ordering across the Channel, as I learned from Deflem's paper. Charles Dickens, in an article for a magazine he edited, Household Words, had fun with the efforts of the German police at a London industrial exhibition to keep tabs on communists, liberals, democrats, separatists and anyone else who might foment more mayhem on the Continent:
"Conspiracies of a comprehensive character are being hatched in certain back parlours, in certain back streets behind Mr. Cantelo's Chicken Establishment in Leicester Square. A complicated web of machination is being spun -- we have it on the authority of a noble peer -- against the integrity of the Austrian Empire, at a small coffee shop in Soho. Prussia is being menaced by twenty-four determined Poles and Honveds in the attics of a cheap restaurateur in the Haymarket." One can only wonder what Dickens would write about the present surveillance state. Nick Clegg, leader of Britain's Social Democrats, said stoutly a couple weeks ago that GCHQ's suspicionless surveillance measures are "alien to our British values," and led his political party's fielding of a "Digital Bill of Rights" after David Cameron refused to consider the measure. Good for the Social Democrats! Yet this reiteration of British values is a long way from resolving a situation rooted not in terrorism or international crime but in the very success of liberal democracies.
When met with the digital era the success translated into many millions of back-seat drivers, all Tweeting each other on the daily screw-ups of their respective idiot governments.
The upshot: today's leaders of democratic societies are much in the position of King Friederick Wilhelm surveying the malcontents massed at the barricades in 1848. They're responding to feeling besieged as well as King Friederick did. (For specifics about the latter see Deflem's paper.)
Barack Obama, who'd wrapped himself in the mantle of political Liberalism during his presidential campaigns, is now cast as an authoritarian heavy, wagging his finger at the restive masses for their gauche insistence on privacy. You can't have 100 percent privacy and 100 percent security, he admonished.
No one had known that was the issue but when the masses began asking just how much security 0 privacy had bought them NSA came up with hot air, which was quickly investigated by various watchdog groups' e.g., Pro Publica, and even a panel that Obama himself convened, and which confirmed that yes it was 100 percent hot air.
I reject the findings of the panel, Obama rejoined, and that was that, unless you wanted to count Edward Snowden's comments about NSA's record on fighting terrorism, made in his written testimony to the European Parliament: The “greatest success the program had ever produced was discovering a taxi driver in the United States transferring $8,500 dollars to Somalia in 2007.”
He added drily that NSA had been too busy monitoring online gaming websites and the phone calls of German ministers to pick up on actual terror plots such as the Boston Marathon one.
Just what is the draconian suspicionless surveillance good for, then?
Glenn Greenwald spelled out some of its uses in a February report for Intercept that gave the paleo-conservatives or libertarians, or whatever they are over at Antiwar.com, nightmares. Justin Raimondo wrote in part:
Whereas J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI used old-fashioned methods – primitive bugging devices, poison pen letters, and physical infiltration of "suspect" groups – today’s Thought Police use the Internet to, as Greenwald puts it, "control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the Internet itself."... And Your Brain
In a presentation by the British spy agency GCHQ to the NSA, and the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand intelligence agencies, the top-secret JTRIG unit instructed their allies in the methodology of targeting and destroying political dissidents, and countering their influence on the Internet. Their approach is oh-so "scientific," citing social science theories about human motivation, giving the whole document the aura of an academic study.
The goal of this covert action program is to create what GCHQ describes as "cyber-magicians," who can work their "magic" on the Internet and their designated targets.
But applying social science theories to conditioning the behavior of the masses is old fashioned. One can learn this by watching Charlie Rose's hour-long interview for PBS on March 7, 2013, with a panel of neuroscience experts. The interview, part 13 of Charlie's Brain Series 2, was to discuss "The New Science of Mind and its Public and Policy Implications" or as it can be termed in the vernacular, "The Obama administration's investment in getting inside your head."
All for a good cause, of course, to battle the scourge of Alzheimer's and other brain diseases, although what this has to do with the government needing to know "the nature of decision-making" and the "impact of our biases on our decision-making" -- it's complex. If you're not a neuroscientist you're not really qualified to ask such questions of your government.
1) See Deflem's paper for the citation for Dickens' remarks.