Workers Vanguard No. 1034
15 November 2013
U.S. Imperialists Squirm over Exposures
Spying and Lying in the Belly of the Beast
The highly secretive National Security Agency (NSA) has found details of its snooping activities splashed across the front pages of newspapers the world over ever since its former analyst Edward Snowden made off with a cache of documents earlier this year. Recent disclosures over U.S. surveillance of foreign heads of state have now put the White House in an awkward spot. For its part, the NSA baldly presents itself as the very guardian of democracy. In the words of the agency’s own (classified) five-year plan, its electronic eavesdroppers “hold the moral high ground, even as terrorists or dictators seek to exploit our freedoms.” In reality, the billions of electronic intercepts the NSA has amassed are simply the covert face of U.S. imperialism’s drive to dominate the world. In the seventy years that the U.S. has been the top imperialist power, millions have been slaughtered in wars to enforce its domination.
Snowden, and before him Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, deserve full credit for revelations that at great personal cost have chipped away at the imperialists’ facade of piety. The spying scandal has brought additional discomfort to an administration that lost face when it had to back down from an attack on Syria and then found its credibility further damaged when it bungled the implementation of its signature health care law. The White House is attempting to cover up its responsibility for the “excesses” of the American snoops with an outpouring of lies, obfuscations and two-faced apologies. President Obama has surpassed his predecessor when it comes to invading privacy, shredding basic democratic rights and enhancing covert police powers. Meanwhile, Congressmen who voted to pour oceans of money into the NSA (its 2013 budget request was $10.8 billion) have feigned surprise over the extent of spying.
An article by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs makes the obvious point that nothing has been revealed thus far about NSA spying that was really unexpected. The authors observe, “The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it.” Hypocrisy is a necessary component of the democratic form of capitalist class rule. It is a sugar coating that masks the bitter taste of the exploitation and oppression inherent to capitalist society.
While attempting to lull the masses with hypocrisy, the bosses also employ the cops, the courts, the military and the prisons as the fundamental guardians of their rule. The NSA’s massive accumulation of data facilitates the depredations of U.S. imperialism abroad as well as state control over the American population, including the repression of those who defy the dictates of the capitalist rulers. Never far from the minds of the exploiters is the working class, the only force with the cohesion and social power to overthrow capitalist rule.
The “war on terror” is a convenient fiction, a political crusade that has provided the U.S. bourgeoisie with a pretext for enhancing its repressive arsenal. This apparatus of state terror will be brought to bear in any future upsurge in workers struggle, when the capitalists’ war against labor militancy again flares up. In the 1886 Haymarket massacre, Chicago police attacked workers rallying for the eight-hour day and arrested eight anarchist labor organizers who were subsequently framed up and imprisoned or executed. After World War I, thousands of foreign-born radicals were deported in an attempt to quash the labor militancy that had been ignited in the U.S. by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. After World War II, the McCarthy witchhunts purged the reds who built the CIO industrial union federation from the labor movement.
U.S. Spying and the
For their truth telling, Snowden, Manning and Assange have all become targets of the American capitalist rulers. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley, was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, convicted and sentenced in August to 35 years in prison for the “crime” of exposing U.S. imperialism’s atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Assange, trapped in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, is the target of a CIA manhunt for publishing Manning’s revelations on WikiLeaks. Snowden depends precariously on a one-year residency permit granted by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who nonetheless described the NSA’s mass surveillance programs as “the way a civilized society should go about fighting terrorism.” Some German politicians have now mooted offering Snowden political asylum in exchange for his testimony about U.S. spying.
Capitalist rulers like German chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff are no doubt dismayed that the wheelings and dealings conducted on their cell phones have become the property of the NSA. Merkel, who is seen as the Torquemada of European Union (EU) austerity, and Rousseff, who faces increasing economic discontent at home, have opted to enhance their reputations by demagogically indicting the excesses of the American behemoth and posturing as champions of privacy rights that the U.S. government is trampling.
But the great power competitors of U.S. imperialism are themselves well practiced in turning the tools of espionage against their own populations. Soon after the French and German governments made a show of outrage over the NSA bugging their diplomatic offices, it was revealed that the two EU heavyweights were engaged in the same kind of domestic mass data collection as the NSA, sharing information with the Americans. Among the “Success Stories” trumpeted in one classified NSA document made available by Snowden is the German government modifying its interpretations of privacy laws “to afford the BND [intelligence service] more flexibility in sharing protected information with foreign partners.”
Germany has long been miffed by its exclusion from the Five Eyes—the alliance of the U.S., Britain and the junior imperialist suckerfish of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which supposedly allows these partners access to virtually all of each other’s intelligence. Britain has, to date, been especially zealous in its defense of the U.S. super spies. Invoking anti-terror law, British authorities detained David Miranda, the partner of reporter Glenn Greenwald who published Snowden’s initial revelations, at Heathrow airport for almost nine hours supposedly to divest him of 58,000 NSA electronic documents. Earlier, the Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the NSA, had overseen the destruction of a copy of Snowden’s files held at the offices of the Guardian newspaper. (Several other copies remain.)
American “Democracy”: Capitalist Class Dictatorship
The U.S. capitalist class—in whose interests the spying is carried out—is concerned with the impact that the exposures might have on future dealings with their European counterparts. Most concerned are the giant information processors—Google, Yahoo et al.—who fear that the decline in business of late will only continue, as the bulk of them are known to have readily provided the NSA with access to their data. Google executive Eric Schmidt is attempting to bluff his way out of trouble by feigning outrage against the NSA data burglars.
Many Americans are given to self-exposure on the Net and accustomed to having their personal data looted by Google, Yahoo and the rest on the behalf of advertisers. But the massive scope of snooping has raised the temperature of an American populace increasingly disgusted with a Congress and a president that have done nothing to alleviate the ravages of the Great Recession.
Even as he tries to give the impression that he wants to rein in spying, Obama has been loath to acknowledge any wrongdoing. In fact, his administration has stated that there is no alternative to the bulk collection of data, offering only that the NSA could perhaps destroy the information it has stockpiled after three years instead of the current five—as a sop to those naive enough to believe that the data will ever be destroyed. When it matters to the bourgeoisie, however, Obama seems magically able to adjust the electronic surveillance machine, as witnessed by his recent assurance to Merkel that her cell phone was not currently bugged.
More retreats and apologies may lie ahead as the web of U.S. surveillance is further brought to light. There is some movement in Congress to modify sections of the Patriot Act, with a few politicians suggesting its repeal. Among the lawmakers expressing some dismay at the extent of snooping is Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, an author of the Patriot Act who now wants to put “reasonable limits” on it. The Freedom Act, the draft legislation that he has sponsored, is supported by a range of right-wing libertarians and civil-rights groups like the ACLU. It would be welcome if such efforts created some speed bumps for the agents of U.S. imperialism. It would be foolish to believe that reforms will ever significantly impede the imperialists’ spying on whomever they want whenever they want. In fact, rival legislation from Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein would simply provide a solid legal footing for across-the-board surveillance, explicitly authorizing the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
The NSA was founded in 1952 by secret order of Democratic president Harry Truman, mainly to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It greatly expanded during the late 1960s and early ’70s, as the government targeted radicals, Vietnam antiwar activists and black militants. Recently revealed documents indicate that the NSA viewed its very own Operation Minaret program, under which it spied on everyone from Martin Luther King to Jane Fonda, as “disreputable if not outright illegal.” This program complemented the FBI’s COINTELPRO, which began as a spying operation on the Communist Party and later unleashed murderous repression against Black Panther militants. After the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s and under the impact of the social struggles of that period, some of this sordid history was made public through the investigation and hearings of the Senate’s 1975-76 Church Committee.
Among the measures adopted to curb NSA/CIA spying following the Church hearings was the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Sponsored by the liberal icon Democratic senator Ted Kennedy, this legislation set up a special secret court to vet requests for “national security” wiretaps. FISA, or some similar oversight body, is invoked in many of today’s proposed NSA reforms. In reality, FISA has served as a doormat for the NSA on its way to securing warrants for its clandestine data raids. In its first 33 years, the court denied only eleven of nearly 34,000 wiretap applications! The annual statistics provided to Congress put the current application approval rate at over 99 percent.
The capitalist rulers, a tiny minority of the population who live off the labor of the working class, depend on lying, spying and violence to keep the majority of the population underfoot. Diplomatic skullduggery, which Obama in a rare moment of candor referred to as “how intelligence services operate,” is a means to maneuver for influence, markets and cheap labor. When the working class took power in Russia after the 1917 October Revolution, the Bolsheviks who led the revolution published the secret World War I treaties concluded by the prior tsarist and Provisional Government regimes with their imperialist allies, exposing the war as a quest for plunder. With that stroke, the Bolsheviks demonstrated that they abandoned all hypocrisy and lies in addressing the workers of other nations, while continuing to employ all necessary subterfuge and deceit in dealings with the domestic and imperialist forces of counterrevolution.
In 1923-24, a parasitic bureaucracy headed by Stalin usurped political power from the Soviet proletariat (see article on page 2). The bureaucracy’s police apparatus would be used to suppress all opponents of the regime, not only counterrevolutionaries but especially communist oppositionists, first and foremost the Trotskyists, who fought against the Stalinists’ betrayal of the struggle for world socialist revolution. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s foreign spy service targeted the imperialists as well as, at times, working-class struggle in other countries, such as during the Spanish Civil War.
For their part, the U.S. and other imperialist countries built up armies of spies to serve the drive for capitalist restoration in the USSR. With the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the common enemy of the imperialists was removed. Subsequently, their clandestine operations were directed more to gaining advantage over one another, even as military and economic pressure has been kept on China and the other remaining deformed workers states.
Spying and treachery between states will persist until international proletarian revolution erases the basis for national antagonisms and sets the stage for the withering away of the state. After that, as Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels eloquently explained, “State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production” (Anti-Dühring, 1878).