The Surveillance Society and the National Security State

At American Power, Donald Douglas relays word of a story from Danville, Virginia under the headline "Tea Party Censorship." In a nutshell, local Tea Party activists bird dogged their congressional representative, Thomas Perriellos, at a town-hall meeting. They were ignored, and began to protest outside the event, whereupon they were made to leave by police. Regrouping at a local restaurant, it became apparent that they were being surveilled by a law enforcement official in an unmarked car. Americans for Limited Government supplies the details in an editorial. Since many Tea Party organizers admit that they are new to the forms of protest they have begun to employ, it was only a matter of time before they realized that protesters are often not looked upon kindly by members of the law enforcement community, to put it mildly. As their protests continue, we will undoubtedly hear more reports of this kind, and many participants may be shocked by their handling on the part of the law. Perhaps such incidents will force more people to reconsider their reflexive deference to the state's police apparatus. Reflecting on the events in Danville, the ALG editorial remarks, "Not only has Representative Perriello displayed his disdain for free speech and opposing voices, he has gone a step further and aggressively sought to punish it. It is a tried-and-true despotic practice that has no place in America." Unfortunately, though such tactics are a trued-and-true despotic practice, the latter portion of the claim is demonstrably false. Consider the extent of government surveillance activities of anti-war groups over the last six years:
Oakland Police: "Two Oakland police officers working undercover at an anti-war protest in May 2003 got themselves elected to leadership positions in an effort to influence the demonstration." (San Francisco Chronicle.)

New York Police: "For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews." (NY Times.)

FBI: "Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show." (NY Times.)

NSA: "The National Security Agency has been spying on a Baltimore anti-war group, according to documents released during litigation, going so far as to document the inflating of protesters' balloons, and intended to deploy units trained to detect weapons of mass destruction . . . the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a Quaker-linked peace group, has been monitored by the NSA working with the Baltimore Intelligence Unit of the Baltimore City Police Department." (Raw Story.)

DoD: "Pentagon documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union last week show the Department of Defense monitoring the activities of a wide swath of peace groups, including Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Code Pink, the American Friends Service Committee, the War Resisters League, and United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella group organizing January's protest." (
A more recent example of overt political profiling would include the Missouri Information Analysis Center report, uncovered in March, identifying third party activists as potential security threats. Given the history of the state's surveillance of lawful protest groups, it would be surprising if Tea Party organizers were not already being monitored by government organizations across the country. Faced with such scenarios, there is an almost spontaneous tendency among activists to identify the immediate object of their political ire as the formal cause of their suppression and surveillance. This temptation must be resisted as a reactionary reflex of duopoly ideology, one that short circuits the relation between the individual and the state, often resulting in ridiculous formulations, such as "George Bush shut down my anti-war protest," or perhaps "Barack Obama cancelled my Tea Party." Partisan, duopolist reactions of this sort obscure a more deeply rooted problematic. As I wrote in Surveillance and the Sphere of Consensus, whether on the left or the right, "from the perspective of the intelligence and surveillance apparatus of the two-party state, political opinions outside the bipartisan sphere of consensus are clearly perceived as real threats to the security of the system."

The surveillance society and the national security state are two sides of the same coin. When Thomas Jefferson stated that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, he did not mean that the cost of liberty is constant scrutiny of the people by government, but rather the constant scrutiny of government by the people.

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