Review of ‘The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot’ by Noami Wolf
For this essay Chapter Five ‘Surveil Ordinary Citizens’ of Noami Wolf’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot is chosen for analysis. Wolf talks about the dangers of succumbing to internal security measures, which are just a facade for government control over civilian thought and act. Wolf makes salient comparisons between the post 911 situation in America and similar historical episodes under the Nazi and Fascist regimes. And to the reader’s alarm there are striking similarities between the methods and devices employed by these governments in censoring and subordinating the general population. This essay will argue in support of the points and concerns raised by the author by citing evidence from credible scholarly sources.
It was anti-Semitism and fervent nationalism that consolidated government control of German, Italian and Chinese populations respectively in the bygone era. In today’s geo-political situation, terrorism is the most discussed issue in public discourse. Ever since the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, it has been a major pre-occupation of American diplomatic and military efforts. Since the United States is the leader of the prevailing uni-polar world, terrorism now has implications for all countries associated with it. In the context of the ongoing War
“Tyrants place populations under surveillance because that is a prime means of control. The Gestapo, the NKVD, the KGB, the Stasi, and the Chinese Politburo all requisitioned private data such as medical, banking, and library records; now, with the Internet, Chinese authorities track citizens’ computer use. One reason dictators demand access to such private data is that this scrutiny breaks down citizens’ sense of being able to act freely against those in power…” (Wolf, Chapter 5, p.81)
While counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence operations might have legitimate causes in certain exceptional cases, today it has come to represent hegemony and power. The record of the United States, especially under eight year reign of George W. Bush speaks ill of the notion of counter-intelligence. Interrogators working on the War on Terror project have resorted to such dehumanizing tactics such as solitary confinement in nudity in order to elicit intelligence information from suspects. Interrogators were learnt to have imposed nudity as a way of inducing ‘learned helplessness’ – which is akin to the psychological subjugation of American public to the domination and control by the elite business and political class. The Obama administration continued this tactic with Pfc. Bradley Manning. Whistle-blowers are being held naked in solitary confinement, “while our political establishment, a complicit media, and a professional class of lawyers and behavioral scientists attempt to veil American atrocities. Current targeted assassinations of American citizens, landmines, torture, and military tribunals sadly converge with the Bush-Cheney era policy of war and counter-terrorism.” (Glazier, 2009, p.957)
The dangers of indirect censorship and control articulated by Noami Wolf are easier to understand when we study the implications of recent legislations. For example, under George W. Bush’s reign, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was further amended so that telecommunications companies would be immunized from any lawsuits about their complicity in the government’s secret massive surveillance of our telephone and internet communications. (www.aclu.org, 2010) Presently, under President Obama, most major telecommunication corporations like Verizon, AT&T, etc are assured that their collaboration with the National Security Agency (NSA) can continue unmitigated. This means that they keep providing reams of private communication data to the NSA and its allied agencies. So broad and sweeping is NSA’s reach under this legislation that, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charges in its current lawsuit,
“The new law permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.” (Hentoff, 2009, p.19)
The virus of personal surveillance has spread even into a citizen’s professional life. One can see reasons why employers need the right to access employee data files in certain official circumstances. It is a common practice for employers to scrutinize past behavior of a potential employee and make sure that the latter is not prone to criminal or other disruptive behavior. Statistics show that through such monitoring a tiny minority of employees are found out for taking illegal (or recreational) drugs during their term of employment. The list of banned drugs includes Marijuana, Cocaine, Opiates, Amphetamines, etc. Excessive use of alcohol can also be in conflict with terms of employment. But giving employers unlimited access is not justifiable. As workplaces have become computerized, “questions have arisen as to an employer’s right to monitor personal use of these devices in the workplace.” (McEvoy, 2002, p.69) Employers usually claim that since they own the communications infrastructure in the company, they can decide policies regarding its use. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 and its subsequent amendments bring clarity to this conflict. In addition to “protecting workers’ rights to organize into unions, the NLRA protects the right of workers to communicate freely with one another about such terms and conditions of employment as compensation, vacations, and job security.” (McEvoy, 2002, p.69) Hence, employers will have to be careful not to breach any provisions under this law. Notwithstanding ethical and other practical reasons why unlimited monitoring of employees is unacceptable, the legal environment thus discourages the tendency. From this position of relative strength till a few years back, employees are more vulnerable than ever under the initiatives of the National Security Agency. (Slobogin, 2007, p.112) As Noami Wolf warns in her book, the day is not far when employers are recruited as agents of state in monitoring and controlling life in the professional domain.
The inability of the NSA to strike a balance between security and liberty has upset Americans from all walks of life. Recent reports about the agency engaging in tapping of telephone calls and in collecting information from civilian databases have drawn strong objections – including lawsuits – from Americans of varied political affiliation. A key illustration of this point is the reaction from the Texas Republican Representative Ron Paul, who noted in his December 2005 column that “Recent revelations that the National Security Agency has conducted broad surveillance of American citizens’ emails and phone calls raise serious questions about the proper role of government in a free society.” (Ron Paul, as quoted in Mass, 2006, p.25) He further queried: “Why does the Constitution have an enumerated powers clause, if the government can do things wildly beyond those powers–such as establish a domestic spying program? Why have a 4th Amendment, if it does not prohibit government from eavesdropping on phone calls without telling anyone?” (Ron Paul, as quoted in Mass, 2006, p.25) The same analysis can be applied to the proliferation of surveillance tech, and the State’s inclination to abuse it, as can be applied to most other concerns about the State abusing its power.