What Makes the American Security State Necessary?
Phyllis Bennis: Will any amount of surveillance make Americans secure when US foreign policy is based on global hegemony?
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Bennis Report with Phyllis Bennis, who’s joining us from Washington, D.C.
Phyllis is a fellow and the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She’s the author of the books Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism and Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.
Thank you for joining us, Phyllis.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Good to be with you.
NOOR: So, Phyllis, the debate that’s resulted from the leaks by Edward Snowden, the most massive leak in NSA history, exposing a whole range of secret spy programs run by the NSA, it’s mostly focused on who Ed Snowden is, what his motives are, where he is now, although he’s reportedly turned up in Hong Kong. Is there a part of this debate that’s been missing from mainstream discourse?
BENNIS: Yeah. I think we’re spending far too much time on who is Edward Snowden and not nearly enough time on what he said, what these leaks are about. We’re focusing on the messenger instead of on the message.
This is fascinating for a number of reasons. The NSA, the National Security Agency, is also known as No Such Agency because it’s by far the most secretive of all 16 of the U.S. intelligence agencies, and for a long time there was a denial that such a thing even existed.
One of the issues about it is that it’s not supposed to be spying on Americans. That’s not its brief. So the fact that what we’ve learned from this drop of such an enormous amount of documents, that the U.S. is vacuuming up, essentially, this enormous batch of virtually every phone call, every email sent to or from the United States, and we’re being reassured that, well, don’t worry, they don’t have enough people and enough trained analysts to actually read this stuff, so that’s supposed to make us feel better, that it’s just being kept in a room somewhere, maybe in this new facility that’s being built, a 1 million-square-foot facility in Utah to store all this stuff until the later time when they do have enough analysts and enough person power to go through it all, that doesn’t make me feel any better. This is a very, very serious breach of any understanding of constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure. There’s not even an allegation here that these are pieces of evidence in some kind of a crime, that even if you weren’t directly involved, maybe there was a connection to someone who was. There’s no one even making that claim. This is straight up vacuuming every bit of cyber information possible from every overseas phone line, every internet server, all the major companies–Google, Verizon, etc. This is massive. This is really a Big Brother operation on steroids. This is way beyond anything that has been confirmed before. And the scale of these violations against the rights of people in this country are far greater than anything that we had confirmed before.
NOOR: Phyllis, when President Obama, he defended this program, he said terrorists are out to get the United States, we need this to defend us. But he never talked about why terrorists want to harm the United States. Do you think that’s an important discussion to have?
BENNIS: Absolutely. I mean, this is something we can go back to the words of the ultimate terrorist himself. Osama bin Laden in one of his statements said there is a reason we do not attack Sweden. And, you know, it was a fascinating notion that attacks are not arbitrary. George W. Bush was known for his famous statement that they hate us for our freedoms. They don’t hate us for our freedoms. They hate us for our denial of their freedoms.
Now, are there people who are simply out to get Americans, there’s a hatred of Americans? Absolutely. Is there anything we can do to change that? Probably not. But the reason that those kinds of terrorists find support in so many places around the world from so many people who might say, well, I don’t really like what they do but I kind of get why they do it, the reason for that is that what we do in so many parts of the world, in the recent decades primarily in the Muslim world in the Middle East and North Africa and other parts of the Muslim world, what we do is denying people their lives, their search for freedom as they understand it.
Our foreign policy for years has been understood to create–the term they use is blowback, meaning there are consequences. When we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s for their fight against the Soviet Union, people thought this was a great, heroic thing. You know, we’re empowering local people in Afghanistan to fight back against the terrible Soviet Union. And what was the consequence of that? What was the blowback of that? Nine/eleven. Those attacks were a direct result of what happened to people like Osama bin Laden when he was one of those that we armed to fight against the Soviet Union.
NOOR: So, Phyllis, some might argue that because of our past foreign-policy, we are the target of blowback now, and so these programs are necessary. How would you respond to that argument?
BENNIS: Well, first of all, I think we have to be clear that these are not only programs in the past. These are programs, these are policies of today. The U.S. drone war is now being fought in at least eight countries that we know about, and there’s been no approval of that by the Congress, there’s been no debate about that among the American people. It’s only the last couple of weeks that there’s even been acknowledgment by the administration that the drone war itself does exist. So these are policies that are still going on.
They are still 66,000 US troops occupying Afghanistan and more than 100,000 U.S.-paid mercenaries occupying Afghanistan. This is not a war in the past.
The antiwar candidacy of Senator Obama led to the war presidency of President Obama. So there’s no question that these are still the same policies. The question of do we therefore have to do something about it, the answer is: yes, of course we do.
The first thing we need to do is change those policies so that we’re not carrying out policies that are known. The heads of all the U.S. intelligence agencies acknowledge that the drone war is creating more terrorists than it is wiping out, that our war in Afghanistan and our support for a widely understood corrupt regime is doing more damage to Afghanistan than the Taliban. So the first thing we have to do is change those policies.
Now, do we also have to do something to head off the attacks, to use good police work? Absolutely. We need to do that in cooperation with other countries using the International Criminal Court. We need to do all that we can to head off those attacks. The question is: is a program like PRISM, a program that is so massive it’s like trying to get a drink of water out of a fire hose, so massive that every phone call is swept up into it, where there’s no distinction about what are we looking for, who are we looking for, this simply doesn’t fly. It’s not worth what we gain from it. Maybe once a while there will be something that somebody will be able to connect a dot. That’s a good thing. But is that occasional, rare, rare, rare, rare occurrence, is that worth the massive denial of the civil rights and the privacy of 330 million American people? I don’t think so. [inaud.] that we’re being forced to accept without ever having had this discussion among our people or among the Congress.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us, Phyllis.
BENNIS: Thank you.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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