Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government.

– Jeremy Bentham

Harry Truman replaced the old republic with a national-security state whose sole purpose is to wage perpetual wars, hot, cold, and tepid.

– Gore Vidal

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there’s a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

– William O. Douglas

Introduction: Sleight of the Generals

The Nazi’s used IBM cards. The National Security Agency, (NSA), has been collecting Metadata on all Americans, and using its PRISM program to record, directly from IP servers, the content of certain emails or entire email boxes. PRISM may have scooped up all Facebook content. And it has easy access to The Cloud, which people use more and more to back up their entire hard drives. The NSA director is General Keith Alexander, who is also CyberCom commander. The NSA is part of the Department of Defense.

In his March, 2012 testimony before Congress, General Alexander and Representative Hank Johnson, (D-Georgia), had the following exchange:

Rep. Johnson: Does the NSA intercept Americans’ cell phone conversations?

Director Alexander: No.

Google searches?


Text messages?

No. orders?


Bank records?


What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications and information involving American citizens?

Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it were a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have to lead. It could work that with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of collection in the United States it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it. (

Overall, Alexander responded 14 times that the agency doesn’t collect these sorts of domestic data.

In a July, 2012 speech at the DefconHacker Conference, General Alexander said: “Our job is foreign intelligence … Those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people, is absolutely false…” (  This June 18, Alexander testified before Congress, stating that NSA surveillance has thwarted “50 terrorist events.” ( But, since his 2012 testimony, and DefconHacker speech are suspect, is there any reason now to believe him? Or, if he is giving us some true facts, to what extent is he truthful? And if we seek proof for the thwarting of these terrorist events, will most of the evidence remain classified?

During a March 12, 2013 United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, Senator Ron Wyden, (D-Oregon), asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, (a retired lieutenant general), “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No, sir.” Wyden asked, “It does not?” And Clapper said, “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

Thanks to Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald we now know differently.

With their apparent lies and cover-ups might these generals have committed treason against the American people? Is there any reason why both generals should not be charged with perjury and contempt of Congress, and Alexander additionally be dishonorably discharged?

NSA Background

The NSA was founded during the Truman administration, and its unconstitutional activities, along with those of the CIA and FBI, were already once revealed during the 1972 Church Committee hearings. It may be said that the news of contemporary mass NSA eavesdropping reveals another aspect of America’s longstanding structural drift away from democracy. Bi-partisan cheerleaders for this NSA abuse claim that it’s legal. And President Obama has said that the process is “transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court.” ( The secret FISA Court was established in 1978, putatively to prevent the sorts of abuses first revealed by the Church Committee. However, it is a Foreign intelligence Surveillance Court, supposedly having no domestic jurisdiction.

This secret court issues clandestine warrants for the sorts of activities the NSA engages in. Sadly, the gist of the President’s comment is that, ‘it’s legal.’  As we know, all sorts of things have been done under color of law: slavery, strike-breaking, the denial of woman suffrage, segregation, denial of women’s reproductive rights, denial of gay rights, and the NAZI empowerment law of 1932; as well as the Patriot Act, and the proposed National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, (contemplating indefinite surveillance–,  etc.

Circling the Wagons against Truth

In a climate in which congressional members of one major party have done all in their power not to work across the aisle, the response to the recent NSA disclosures has been unusually bi-partisan. Karl Rove has said that the NSA’s sort of spying on the people is needed to “keep the nation safe.” (  Congressman Eric Cantor, (R-Virginia), says that “the reports seem to indicate that, that if anyone were to violate the law by releasing classified information outside the legal avenues, certainly that individual should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” (  Senator Diane Feinstein, (D-California), is only upset that someone has leaked the fact that we have all been spied upon for years. In fact, she said that Edward Snowden “committed an act of treason.” Speaker of the House, John Boehner, (R-Ohio), concurred. (  Senators Ben Nelson, (D-Florida) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), have echoed these comments in so many words. (

In an interview with Edward Snowden’s friend, Mavanee Anderson, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell has suggested that Snowden has an “immature outlook,” was “naive,” “grandiose,” and lacked “intellectual maturity. In also possibly raising the specter of guilt by association, O’Donnell referenced Snowden’s contribution to the Ron Paul campaign with a video clip of Paul. ( Jeffrey Toobin, writing in the New Yorker, has said that Snowden is “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.” (  So, the “grandiose” talking point is out there. Will it stick and help to divert our focus from what’s going on?

In echoing the Alien and Sedition Acts, Peter King, (R-New York), chair of the house homeland security committee and former IRA supporter, has called for the prosecution of Glenn Greenwald and other journalists who cover security leaks. ( And on Sunday, June 23, 2013, putative journalist David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” (

Perhaps Edward Snowden, this newest whistleblower, will “hang” for this, just as Bradley Manning is now in the “stocks” for shining the light on Pentagon gangsterism.

In our fading democracy, our politicians speak of “transparency.” What is meant here is that everything we do must be transparent to the National Security State. In our fading democracy, politicians constantly spin the rhetoric of “transparency,” but would destroy any messenger who lifts the curtain. Indeed, whistle-blowers have not at all fared well lately.

Truth Will Out

Glenn Greenwald, (Guardian UK), who first reported on Mr. Snowden’s NSA evidence, has said that:

ever since the Nixon administration broke into … Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst’s office, the tactic of the US government has been to attack and demonize whistleblowers as a means of distracting attention from their own exposed wrongdoing and destroying the credibility of the messenger so that everyone tunes out the message… and that attempt will undoubtedly be made here.

Within hours of the Guardian’s first story about the NSA, Al Gore tweeted: “In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” (

Edward Snowden has been labeled a traitor. In my view, what he has done is patriotic. However, contrary to Thomas Jefferson, the dictum has become that we must never open the message to a “candid world.”

Structural Drift

Consider George F. Kennan’s 1948 observation:

We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. … In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. … To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. … We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

—George F. Kennan, Policy Planning Study 23 (PPS23), Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1948

Now Kennan may have been thinking about some supposed unworkability of democracy in respect of other countries. But those who plan and support anti-democratic ideas-in-action abroad must also entertain, accept, expect or even yearn for the possibility that someday their stratagems will come home. These phenomena, perhaps shallowly understood, but at least helping us to interrogate the planners’ plans, may be expressed as “blowback.”

Regardless of “blowback,” however, the USA is an empire.  So the NSA has not only spied on all of us. It has also been spying worldwide; suggesting that ruling social forces have an accordion-like and subjective theory of American borders.

From time to time, there may be wrinkles in Kennan’s original formulation. For example, despite his outlook, the sensibility of one of our political parties and the bald hypocrisy of some members of the other, the rhetoric of human rights prevails worldwide, and is even deepening at home. In certain quarters, it has been taken up quite seriously. In others, it becomes simply a pretext for military intervention and its consequences? perhaps ultimately aimed at achieving Kennan’s stated 1948 ends.

If it is accurate to say that this mass eavesdropping, this mass spying on the people, is part of a longstanding structural drift away from democracy, it becomes yet another aspect of the diminution of civil society. But the present government is certainly NOT a totalitarian or fascist government.

Voting still exists. It actually does mean something. A twofold test of this lies in the actual election of progressives to Congress, and in corollary Republican attempts, where they control state legislatures and governors, to attack unions, suppress minority, youth, and elder suffrage, and roll back women’s reproductive rights. The particular Republican forces I have mentioned here have nothing to do with conservatism, as they continually self-label, which the media so compliantly echoes. And, as revealed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, (MRFF), fundamentalists have been proselytizing in the armed forces for some time. Even some members of the officer corps are involved. This last point is more than troubling; invoking, as it does a whiff of 1936 Spain.   I suggest that the above cluster of Republican and fundamentalist activities illustrates fascist social forces at work in our country.

While, as has been said, the present government is not fascist, that does not mean that, for example, the Bush Regime did not put into place fascist infrastructural elements. And surely the Bush-Supreme Court Coup of 2000 and the stolen 2004 election accelerated the movement toward repression in the United States.

In his dissent in Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 65 S. Ct. 193, 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944), Justice Robert Jackson observed that the Constitution may be ‘legally’ rationalized for convenience. Jackson, later the chief prosecutor at Nuremburg, said that “[t]he principle then lies about like a loaded weapon, ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. Every repetition imbeds that principle more deeply in our law and thinking and expands it to new purposes.”

Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations suggest that the government has violated the Fourth Amendment. At the same time, we are faced with a novel historical situation.

Literally understood, or understood through the rhetoric of Right-wing originalism, (“what the founding fathers intended,” etc.), the Fourth Amendment only prevents “unreasonable searches and seizures” of our “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” But this literalism is today much too narrowly comprehended, as just going into your house or spying on your conversations—Big Brother watching.

Metadata Metastasizes

What about noting that your house is painted green; its location already having been pointed out by Google Earth? What about the outside of the house?

“Metadata” is precisely about creating patterns out of this external aspect of information. It’s not about listening to your phone calls per se, but capturing the fact that you make one, and to whom and where, and for how long; and registering your physical location when that call was made. Today the external aspect has multiplied enormously, seemingly overwhelming the internal. So, it’s now unnecessary to violate “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” as stipulated in the amendment.

Clearly, since the Founders had no plausible notion of what we’re dealing with, originalism cannot possibly carry the day. If the e-trail has all the information needed to keep track of people, there is no ‘need’ to listen to the conversation or enter the house?at least not yet! So we now must have a broader view of Fourth Amendment privacy protections. Add to this the problem that our sense of privacy, especially among young people, has been diminished by our own confessional social media practices.

As disturbing as are these revelations about government spying, there is yet another sort of spying, a daily life espionage that we all know about; in which we are willing participants.

Goo-Goo-Goo-Ga-ly Eyes

Since software “learns,” when and where I bank, or buy a book or a food processor from Amazon, I am immediately treated to other purchasing possibilities. These days, those who turn 65 are confirmed as “seniors” by the inundation of mailing address labels from unsolicited sources seeking donations. The phone, (fortunately, the landline), may ring. Upon answering, a pre-recorded alarmist voice tells us, “[i]f you are over 60, do not to hang up; there have been thefts and break-ins in your neighborhood.” A solution is then presented; buy their security system. And anyone who uses email daily constantly receives unwanted messages to use this or that credit card or buy this or that, some in postal mail, most in the junk mail box; but often, the inbox. How did they get my email address?

Recently, Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente observed that she had ordered an item from Amazon and, upon switching to her favorite blog, received from Amazon an ad reflecting her previous choice. (

Truly, the eyes of the market are upon us. But who’s complaining?

Tellingly, Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University, in a column in the Des Moines Register, notes that:

… in my electronic democracy class …. [n]o student who took my class was surprised … about the federal government accessing Verizon customer communications. My students also were not shocked … that Microsoft, Facebook and a gaggle of other companies’ servers were also made available to the National Security Agency and FBI… is it surprising to you that e-mail, Internet searches and cell phone traffic are the prime nexus of information to uncover such plots? When we look out over the cyber landscape and the cultures of 24/7 “tell-all” America, are you surprised that in 2013 there is really no privacy left? … [The students’] response is almost unanimously, I don’t care. I have nothing to hide. I’m not a terrorist or a criminal, so I don’t care if the government intercepts my texting, cellphone, Facebook account or Internet surfing…To old-school folks like me, that may seem shocking. We … [actually believe] that privacy and freedom are inexorably welded together… (

While a recent Pew Center survey ( suggests that not all youth are so delightedly compliant. But, given the Net, and specifically, Facebook and other social media, all now may enjoy Marshall MacLuhan’s “15 minutes of fame” on steroids. Why should we be absorbed in self-absorption? But to a great extent, we are. With all of this self-referential self-indulgence, all this delight in subjectivity, is it any wonder that many people are unperturbed by market snooping.

Here is the “metaphysical” issue: more and more we tend to identify ourselves with our digital personas as projected into the abstract social space of the digital universe. The inner self or the private self, protected by the 4th Amendment and essential for real political freedom, no longer seems to have any reality for more and more people. What counts is the digital self, the digital profile on Facebook, the moment to moment recording of our thoughts and activities on Twitter, as if they have no meaning unless and until they are projected into cyberspace for anyone and everyone to see.

This is our contemporary form of what Hegel called “recognition,” the feeling that we are nothing until someone else acknowledges us. But, Hegel thought that there is no true recognition except between free and equal individuals. There are many false forms of recognition, however, as when the master demands adulation by the slave.

It is our digital projections of ourselves that constitutes our deeply unsatisfying contemporary form of recognition. To this extent, there is no real communication between one person and another. We constantly seek the 15 minutes of fame that now is available 24/7, but that leaves us isolated from one another in our very togetherness. It is a form of on-going self-commodification, putting ourselves out there for a new kind of market based on a new kind of currency that takes the alien abstraction of ordinary money to the next level.

But, as now has been shown across Brazil, and in Gezi Park; and as we saw in Tahrir Square and in the Occupy Movement; cyber-technology and social networking may be turned to concrete and positive human ends. Here, the issue is the use of technique, and technique for what ends, to serve which class interests. In the Soviet Union, the question was “kto,” “for whom.” And though the Soviet Union is gone, the human question remains. For whom?

Market thinking was there at the nation’s birth. But over time it has profoundly strengthened its hand in the ideology of the State. (In some quarters, even democracy is a ‘brand.’)

Just one month to the day after September 11, 2001, George W. Bush said: “Now, the American people have got to go about their business [my emphasis]. We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop [my emphasis].” Clearly, freedom is reduced to market freedom; and it is our patriotic duty to consume. But market domination is not at all individual freedom. Under the masque of individualism, and ‘because I have so many choices,’ it is the inverse—domination of individuals by the market. We have willingly sacrificed to the market; we have confessed all to Wall Street and to Amazon. But now the confessional is inverted. Our confessions; our thoughts, dreams, desires—all expressed as purchases or surfing for other purchases—are out there for all to see. Problematically, we revel way too much in this relinquishing of self to the market because? we want ‘the stuff.’ What do we care? Why should we care—that is the question.

Slavoj Žižek observes that “…the actual outcome of the sublime revolutionary explosion which promised liberté, égalite, fraternité is the miserable utilitarian/egotistical universe of market calculation.”

As the “information society” has expanded, authentic civil society has more and more contracted, more and more dissolved; becoming an avatar of its former self, but hopefully not of its historically possible self. With all this “information,” which has vastly dis-informed in so many ways, people have actually become more mired in their individual selves, increasingly de-politicized, and yet inured to their own de-politicization. Lacking an effective theory of historical possibility that could link to action, we say “oh hum; what features will I-Phone 10 have?”

Despite the fact that my older social security card stipulates, in print, “for social security and tax purposes?not for identification,” that line has been disappeared from newer cards for years. Banks, vendors, etc. constantly seek out and use our social security numbers as forms of ID. While we worry about ID theft at the individual level, the market has been scooping up our ID’s all this time.

These days, our e-trails left in cyberspace are part of the present system of social control. But with the market in command, there is likely no one in particular doing the controlling. Having political control in place is superior to leaving all to the market, i.e., to fundamentally uncontrolled and irrational processes. If the government stepped out of the picture, we would hardly be free from spying; and short of a very high level of mass self-organization, we might have no way of doing anything collectively about it. As compromised and undercut as regulatory structures are today, just visualize what more J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman-Sachs, Exxon, and Monsanto, etc. could do in the absence of any regulation whatsoever: the hoped-for mantra of the Republican Party. That same party, along with a number of turncoat Democrats would privatize the public sector as well, making it all part of the market.

Market Analogies

Scarcity is a property of capitalist markets. Yes, there is production in abundance. But all this abundance is not an abundance of human needs fulfillment. So, there is scarcity; of healthy ecosystems, non-GMO crops, meaningful employment, nutritious food, housing, peace, quality public education etc.  American Nobelist Paul Samuelson said that “[e]conomics is a study of how people and society end up choosing with or without the use of money, to employ scarce [my emphasis] productive resources that could have alternate uses.”

When it comes to NSA snooping, we are told by our elected representatives and the media both that we must balance safety against liberty, sacrificing some of the latter in order to remain safe. Indeed, in speaking of Edward Snowden at the recent Netroots Nation conference, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-California), said “as far as [it goes with] Snowden, you may disagree with me, but he did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents. The fact is, we have to have a balance between security and privacy [my emphasis].”1 (

Actually, however, “balancing of rights against security” is an expression of scarcity, a market analogy that persists in American juridical and ideological tradition under the rubrics of ‘balancing of interests’ and ‘balancing of rights.’ This prestidigitation is an underlying but unspoken market or utilitarian domain assumption (i.e., ‘if you want security, you need to compromise your rights’).

Theory of ‘balancing of rights’ was first asserted by the U. S. Supreme Court in Schenck v. United States (1919), in which it was determined that speech can be restricted if it represents a “clear and present danger,” such as “shouting fire in a theater.”

In that case, which expanded the power of the 1917 Espionage Act to censor free speech, the “clear and present danger” was the publication and distribution of a pamphlet opposing the United States’ entry into the First World War. In writing for the Supreme Court majority, Mr. Justice Holmes (Oliver Wendell Holmes) said:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force… The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war, [“war” against terrorism—war against a tactic?], many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.

Reason dictates, however, that no one would falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theater. And so far as I am aware, no one ever has. On the other hand, and based on the “fire in the theater” fiction, this decision has contributed to “legal” government censorship, “legal” government trimming of the right of free speech, and the buildup of thought justifying “legal” NSA snooping, in violation of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments, all major cornerstones of American democracy.

On this entire issue, Ben Franklin remarked that; “[t]hose who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The Road Ahead

While since 2008, a number of the current administration’s policies have often seemed to be half-measures forward in the face of more readily attainable progress, since 2010, the Republican Party has almost succeeded in paralyzing the State in the name of capital. (In all fairness, though, the “sequester,” read? American austerity program? was a bi-partisan package.) Even with Citizens United, the struggle still lies between the State and capital—the outcome depending upon which social forces inhabit the State. Despite the developed intertwining of the corporations and the State, we do not yet have the Capitalistate, the merger of corporations and the State. And our government does not rule by naked terror.

It would seem that we do not have fascism. But fascism takes different forms in different countries in different eras. In 1980, Bertram, Gross suggested that the American trajectory was leading towards a:

repressive Big Business-Big Government partnership. This drift leads down the road toward a new and subtly manipulative form of corporatist serfdom. The phrase “friendly fascism” helps distinguish this possible future from the patently vicious corporatism of classic fascism in the past of Germany, Italy, and Japan. (Boston: South End, 1980), xi.

However, we, (being most of us), having no privacy because of both certain State forces and the market, must win ourselves back from capital. Since we have the means to a 24/7 Kardashian or Real Housewives “reality” show fake life, we need to use these same 24/7 means for organizing to live authentically as people, to reclaim ourselves from this situation. But there is never any effective organization or movement without theory. And anarchism is simply a subjective romance.

There seem to be three possible responses now on the historical agenda. One extreme and retrograde response is market domination and the elevation of the individual above all else. That way, Ayn Randism lies.

A preferred and forward-looking response to the dissolution of civil society is the recognition of what we have been watching as world-emergent: and what had been there all along? political society, always in its germ with the people, which has now suddenly and massively expanded, and to which ruling social forces are profoundly opposed.

Political society lies with the people. And that is where real politics always lives and arises.

But for a new birth of freedom to prevail, we must claim democracy at a higher level. And for the third possibility, fascism, not to occur, we, the people, must have a sound and progressive theory of that new birth of freedom and, perhaps a People’s Democratic Party.

1. Hegel critically anticipates this outlook in the Phenomenology of Mind, when he tells us that: “The moral attitude is, therefore, in fact nothing else than the developed expression of this fundamental contradiction in its various aspects. It is — to use a Kantian phrase which is here most appropriated “perfect nest” of thoughtless contradictions.(2) Consciousness, in developing this situation, proceeds by fixing definitely one moment, passing thence immediately over to another and doing away with the first. But, as soon as it has now set up this second moment, it also “shifts” (verstellt) this again, and really makes the opposite the essential element. At the same time, it is conscious of its contradiction and of its shuffling, for it passes from one moment, immediately in its relation to this very moment, right over to the opposite. Because a moment has for it no reality at all, it affirms that very moment as real: or, what comes to the same thing, in order to assert one moment as per se existent, it asserts the opposite as the per se, existent. It thereby confesses that, as a matter of fact, it is in earnest about neither of them.” Hegel refers to all of this as a “vertiginous fraudulent process.” (New York: Dover, 2003, reprint of 1931 J.B. Baillie translation), p. 362.

Gene Grabiner is a guest blogger with Ring of Fire.