The Guardian 23 April, 2008
Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
Snooping? Who, us?
The capitalist media are always telling us — sometimes directly, sometimes more subtly — that imperialist powers like the USA are "free countries", that their press can say whatever it likes and their citizens can go about their lives (including being involved in politics) without fear of government snooping.
This, we are told, is the backbone of US democracy. Nevertheless, since before the Second World War, the democratic rights of US citizens and institutions have been diminishing, under a steady piece-meal attack by reactionary administrations, power-hungry government agencies and the religious right.
Democratically-minded Americans were able to defend their rights with some vigour until the ever-so-convenient terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. After that date, the US government has used the "terrorist threat" to justify a wholesale attack on the country’s remaining democratic rights.
Invoking "national security" as a kind of mantra to ward off awkward questions about breaching civil liberties and trampling on the constitution, the White House, the Pentagon and the intelligence community have ridden rough-shod over the very things that supposedly are the vital underpinnings of US democracy itself.
Undeterred, democratically-minded Americans (including the US Communists, of course) continue their struggle to assert and re-establish their basic democratic rights (or at least those that bourgeois democracy will tolerate).
Among these courageous people are some journalists determined to expose their government’s lies as well as its illegal or unconstitutional acts. (These journalists oppose their government but, have you noticed, they are never called "dissidents" — that term is reserved exclusively for people in socialist countries who oppose communist governments.)
One of the main areas of the struggle to defend democratic rights within the US has been the push to stop the CIA and the various intelligence agencies of the armed services from extending their espionage activities to include spying on the American people too.
The CIA is widely believed to pay no more than lip service to the embargo on domestic surveillance. In similar fashion the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), according to The New York Times, has conducted domestic operations that targeted "anti-war and other dissident domestic groups".
Law-makers and civil liberties groups kicked up such a fuss about CIFA’s activities that, according to the paper, the Defence Department has decided to shut the agency down. Some of its operations, however, are to be placed under the authority of the Defence Intelligence Agency instead.
It seems unlikely that CIFA will in fact be shut down, however. Tim Shorrock, writing in CorpWatch, earlier this year, noted that "According to Pentagon briefing documents, CIFA’s Directorate of Field Activities ‘assists in preserving the most critical defence assets, disrupting adversaries and helping control the intelligence domain’.
"Another CIFA directorate, the Counterintelligence and Law Enforcement Centre, ‘identifies and assesses threats’ to military personnel, operations and infrastructure from ‘insider threats, foreign intelligence services, terrorists, and other clandestine or covert entities’.
"According to the Pentagon, a third CIFA directorate, Behavioural Sciences, has provided a ‘team of renowned forensic psychologists [who] are engaged in risk assessments of the Guantánamo Bay detainees’."
One shudders to think what kind of "risk assessment" they are actually engaged on. Can you see the Pentagon closing this outfit down just because of complaints from a few bleeding hearts about "breaches of civil liberties"? Neither can I.
This is not the first time there have been moves to shut down parts of CIFA, which was created by Bush’s former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld after the September 11 attacks.
Mark Mazzetti noted in The New York Times that "Portions of CIFA, notably its Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database, were allegedly dismantled after documents uncovered by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] … revealed in 2006 that the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and local police departments had supplied the Pentagon with information that aided intelligence operations against the [US] anti-war movement."
According to a report published in October 2006 by The New Standard, the TALON documents revealed police and government surveillance of peace groups like the Broward Anti-War Coalition (BAWC) and the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers). The Miami-Dade police department, for instance, was apparently concerned that BAWC was planning "to counter military recruitment and the ‘pro-war’ message [at the Ft Lauderdale Air and Sea Show] with ‘guerrilla theatre and other forms of subversive propaganda’."
Definitely evidence of criminal activity, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Other anti-war groups being tracked by TALON in the Land of the Free were Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
The author of the New Standard article, Megan Tandy, summed up the anti-democratic thinking underlying these surveillance measures with the succinct headline "Pentagon Treats Counter-Recruitment Activism as Terrorism."
Part of the TALON database obtained by NBC News in December 2005 included reports on about 48 anti-war meetings or protests.
Also disturbing democratic observers of the US military-industrial complex is the extent to which this sensitive outfit, CIFA, is outsourced. Nine tenths of its staff is actually on contract, provided by a relatively small number of security and defence firms (about thirty).
The idea of outsourcing significant sections of your national security and intelligence operations to the private sector demonstrates how far the corporate state in the US has veered away from any real understanding of or concern for democratic control and responsibility.
It’s all just about looting the public coffers via sleazy defence contracts to line very deep private pockets.