The allegedly less and less power of nation-states is a great exaggeration, voiced by governments in the interest of justifying their failure to introduce even some of their thoroughly limited and once solemnly promised social reforms.… The overwhelming historical failure of capital was—and remains—its inability to constitute the state of the capital system as a whole, while irresistibly asserting the imperatives of its system as the material structural determination of societal reproduction on a global scale. This is a massive contradiction. Inter-state antagonisms on a potentially all-destructive scale—as presaged last century by two world wars still without the now fully developed weapons of total self-destruction—are the necessary consequence of that contradiction. Accordingly, the state that we must conquer in the interest of humanity’s survival is the state as we know it, namely the state in general in its existing reality, as articulated in the course of history, and capable of asserting itself.
The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States began in earnest as soon as the Second World War ended, shaping most of the remainder of the twentieth century. The U.S. doctrine of “containment” required confronting the Soviets at every point of contact, accompanied by the claim that lasting peace could be reached only through the establishment of an international order based on national states which enjoyed a U.S.-defined political liberty and a capitalist economic order. The Soviets bolstered their security through providing support to countries seen as friendly and close to their borders. Therefore, maintaining influence in Iran was a goal of Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East. U.S. foreign policy was shaped by its own state interests and ideology and driven by the American postwar, worldwide systems of military bases.… It is this turbulent period of geopolitical maneuvering that Ervand Abrahamian’s The Coup revisits. Yet, unlike other books on the 1953 events in Iran, Abrahamian locates the U.S.-backed coup less in the Cold War ideological confrontation between East and West than in the conflicts which opposed imperialism and nationalism; between the center of world capitalism and the underdeveloped economies heavily dependent on exporting raw natural resources.
Activists in the anti-war, civil rights, and New Left movements in the 1950s and ’60s were sure they and their organizations were being spied on by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. …. But there was little hard proof of a wider strategy to destroy deliberately entire organizations by the use of completely illegal methods. That was soon to change.… In late 1970 [William Davidon] recruited seven other anti-war activists, mostly pacifists, into a secret Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI. On March 8, 1971, the night of the Mohammed-Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight match, they broke into the unprotected offices of the FBI in Media, Pennsylvania and made off with all the files, on the assumption that they would find evidence of the FBI’s systematic spying on Americans. They had no idea that what they had in their hands would soon expose much more.
The United States came out of the Second World War as the hegemonic power in the world economy. The war had lifted the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression by providing the needed effective demand in the form of endless orders for armaments and troops. Real output rose by 65 percent between 1940 and 1944, and industrial production jumped by 90 percent. At the immediate end of the war, due to the destruction of the European and Japanese economies, the United States accounted for over 60 percent of world manufacturing output. The very palpable fear at the top of society as the war came to a close was that of a reversion to the pre-war situation in which domestic demand would be insufficient to absorb the enormous and growing potential economic surplus generated by the production system, thereby leading to a renewed condition of economic stagnation and depression.… Postwar planners in industry and government moved quickly to stabilize the system through the massive promotion of a sales effort in the form of a corporate marketing revolution based in Madison Avenue, and through the creation of a permanent warfare state, dedicated to the imperial control of world markets and to fighting the Cold War, with its headquarters in the Pentagon. The sales effort and the military-industrial complex constituted the two main surplus-absorption mechanisms (beyond capitalist consumption and investment) in the U.S. economy in the first quarter-century after the Second World War.
The government is collecting information on millions of citizens. Phone, Internet, and email habits, credit card and bank records—virtually all information that is communicated electronically is subject to the watchful eye of the state. The government is even building a nifty, 1.5 million square foot facility in Utah to house all of this data. With the recent exposure of the NSA’s PRISM program by whistleblower Edward Snowden, many people—especially activists—are wondering: How much privacy do we actually have? Well, as far as electronic privacy, the short answer is: None. None at all. There are a few ways to protect yourself, but ultimately, nothing in electronic communications is absolutely protected.
The National Security Agency (NSA) document cache released by Edward Snowden reveals a need to re-theorize the role of state and corporate surveillance systems in an age of neoliberal global capitalism. While much remains unknowable to us, we now are in a world where private communications are legible in previously inconceivable ways, ideologies of surveillance are undergoing rapid transformations, and the commodification of metadata (and other surveillance intelligence) transforms privacy. In light of this, we need to consider how the NSA and corporate metadata mining converge to support the interests of capital.
The government-corporate surveillance complex is consolidating. What has been a confidential but informal collaboration now seeks to legalize its special status.… July 9, 2012, was a scorcher in Washington, DC, with afternoon temperatures over 100 degrees, when an audience of about fifty think-tankers convened in a third-floor briefing room of the Senate’s Russell Office Building on Capitol Hill. Then-Senator John Kyl sponsored the show, although he did not appear in person. He had invited the American Center for Democracy (ACD) and the Economic Warfare Institute (EWI) to explore the topic of “Economic Warfare Subversions: Anticipating the Threat.”
During six riveting months in 2013–2014, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) poured out from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, and Brazil’s O Globo, revealing nothing less than the architecture of the U.S. global surveillance apparatus. Despite heavy media coverage and commentary, no one has pointed out the combination of factors that made the NSA’s expanding programs to monitor the world seem like such an alluring development for Washington’s power elite. The answer is remarkably simple: for an imperial power losing its economic grip on the planet and heading into more austere times, the NSA’s latest technological breakthroughs look like a seductive bargain when it comes to projecting power and keeping subordinate allies in line.
“You whore it out to a contractor,” Major Tim Elliott said bluntly. It was April 2012, and I was at a swank hotel in downtown London attending “Forward Operating Bases 2012,” a conference for contractors building, supplying, and maintaining military bases around the world. IPQC, the private company running the conference, promised the conference would “bring together buyers and suppliers in one location” and “be an excellent platform to initiate new business relationships” through “face-to-face contact that overcrowded trade shows cannot deliver.” Companies sending representatives included major contractors like General Dynamics and the food services company Supreme Group, which has won billions in Afghan war contracts, as well as smaller companies like QinetiQ, which produces acoustic sensors and other monitoring devices used on bases. “We’re profiteers,” one contractor representative said to the audience in passing, with only a touch of irony.
After the Snowden revelations, Internet governance has emerged from relative obscurity, involving only a small technical community, to occupy the center stage of human rights discourse and international relations.… Everyone agrees that digital technologies, including the Internet, are transformative technologies. They reorder society as a whole, as well as relations between society and individuals. But…[their] potential…has not been fully realized. A case in point: instead of the democratizing potential of the Internet, a few global corporations have created monopolies that are much bigger than those we have seen before, and this has happened in just two decades. What does this mean, for instance, for the plurality of media voices? We know that Internet advertising revenue in the United States, having previously overtaken the print media, has now overtaken even TV network advertising revenues. How did monopolies on such a scale happen, and happen so quickly? Does it have to do with the nature of the Internet? Or its architecture and governance?
To support the “war on terrorism,” the concept of war has been introduced into the criminal code of all Western countries. This is the first step on the way to a merger between criminal law and the law of war. Massive spying by the secret services of a country on its citizens has today become the norm. The Snowden revelations on the operations of the NSA have only brought to light a widespread surveillance that is already legalized.… Despite the prominence given to the practices of U.S. intelligence agencies and the resulting indignation in France, the French parliament just adopted a military planning law that includes measures allowing practices similar to those of the NSA, specifically massive spying by intelligence agencies on citizens.
On March 11, 2014, Senator Dianne Feinstein went to the U.S. Senate floor to announce that the CIA had sought to sabotage a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of torture and unlawful detention.… Already, government lawyers had convinced courts that there should be no judicial review of torture and unlawful detention. Such review, it was argued, was beyond the competence of judges, and the executive branch of government needed unfettered discretion to deal with national security threats.… The net result is that the CIA, the NSA, and all the other executive branch agencies engaged in surveillance, detention, torture, rendition of suspects, and even targeted killings by drone strike have claimed immunity from accountability by either of the two other branches—legislative and judicial. What they have done, why they have done it, and why their actions are or are not lawful—all of this has retreated behind a wall of secrecy. The claim made by government lawyers that there has been and will be legislative oversight turns out to be false.