I’ve long admired Jeff Halper‘s work with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions(though to me, haunted by the passages from The poetics of place that Edward Said invokes in Orientalism, ‘home demolition’s would carry even more resonance: it’s so much more than buildings that the Israelis so brutally turn to rubble).
Jeff’s classic, even canonical essay on ‘the matrix of control‘ (see also here) was a constant reference point for my chapters on occupied Palestine in The Colonial Present, and on my first visit to the West Bank I was part of a group that Jeff generously spent a day showing the materialities of military occupation and illegal colonisation: you think you know what you’re going to see, but all the reading in the world can’t prepare you for what Israel has done – and continues to do – to the people of Palestine.
So I’m really pleased to hear from Jeff that his new book, War against the people: Israel, the Palestinians and global pacification, will be out in September (from Pluto Press in the UK and via the University of Chicago Press in the USA):
Modern warfare has a new form. The days of international combat are fading. So how do major world powers maintain control over their people today?
War Against the People is a disturbing insight into the new ways world powers such as the US, Israel, Britain and China forge war today. It is a subliminal war of surveillance and whitewashed terror, conducted through new, high-tech military apparatuses, designed and first used in Israel against the Palestinian population. Including hidden camera systems, sophisticated sensors, information databases on civilian activity, automated targeting systems and, in some cases, unmanned drones, it is used to control the very people the nation’s leaders profess to serve.
Drawing from years of research, as well as investigations and interviews conducted at international arms fairs, Jeff Halper reveals that this practice is much more insidious than was previously thought. As Western governments tighten the grip on their use of private information and claw back individual liberties, War Against the People is a timely reminder that fundamental human rights are being compromised for vast sections of the world, and that this is a subject that should concern everyone.
I’ve noted before the ways in which Israel has used its continuing occupation of Palestine as a laboratory to test new technologies of military violence – and as a series of test cases designed to push the envelope of what is permissible under international humanitarian law and even international human rights law – but here Jeff radicalises the argument to develop a deeply disturbing vision of what he calls ‘securocratic wars in global battlespace’. It’s vitally necessary to remember that later modern war is not the exclusive artefact of the United States and its military-academic-industrial-media (MAIM) complex, and that what happens in Israel/Palestine has desperately important implications for all of us.
Many commentators have claimed – I think wrongly – that one of the new characteristics of war in the twenty-first century is that it has become ‘war amongst the people’: as though No Man’s Land on the Western Front was somehow roped off from the gas attacks and shells that assaulted farms, villages and towns behind the front lines, for example, and air raids were limited to exclusively military-industrial targets. Even if we confine ourselves to the trajectory of ostensibly modern warfare and track forward through the Second World War, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia…. the story is the same: modern war has long been fought amongst the people (though increasingly amongst ‘their’ people). The deconstruction of the battlefield, as Frédéric Mégretcalls it, is clearly visible in Palestine and is inseparable from its globalization. It’s hardly surprising, then, that ‘war amongst the people’ should so easily turn into what Jeff describes as ‘war against the people’.
Here is the list of contents:
Introduction : How Does Israel Get Away With It?
Part I: The Global Pacification Industry
1. Enforcing Hegemony: Securocratic Wars in Global Battlespace
Part II: A Pivotal Israel
2. Why Israel? The Thrust Into Global Involvement
3. Niche-Filling in a Global Matrix of Control
Part III: Weaponry of Hybrid Warfare and Securocratic Control (Niche 1)
4. Niche 1: Weaponry of Hybrid Warfare and Securocratic Control
5. Dominant Maneuver
6. Precision Engagement
Part IV: Securitization and “Sufficient Pacification” (Niche 2)
7. Niche 2: The Securocratic Dimension: A Model of “Sufficient Pacification”
8. Operational Doctrines and Tactics
Part V: Serving Hegemons Throughout the World-System
9. Serving the Hegemons on the Peripheries: The “Near” Periphery
10. Security Politics on the “Far” Periphery
11. The Private Sector
Part VI: Domestic Securitization and Policing
12. Serving the Core’s Ruling Classes “At Home”
Conclusions: Mounting Counterhegemonic Challenges and Resisting Pacification
Resisting Capitalist Hegemony and Pacification: The Need for Infrastructure
Resistance to Pacification: Focusing on the MISSILE Complex
News from Brad Evans of a new book co-authored with Henry Giroux, Disposable futures: the seductions of violence in the age of spectacle (out next month from City Lights).
Disposable Futures makes the case that we have not just become desensitized to violence, but rather, that we are being taught to desire it.
From movies and other commercial entertainment to “extreme” weather and acts of terror, authors Brad Evans and Henry Giroux examine how a contemporary politics of spectacle–and disposability–curates what is seen and what is not, what is represented and what is ignored, and ultimately, whose lives matter and whose do not.
Disposable Futures explores the connections between a range of contemporary phenomena: mass surveillance, the militarization of police, the impact of violence in film and video games, increasing disparities in wealth, and representations of ISIS and the ongoing terror wars. Throughout, Evans and Giroux champion the significance of public education, social movements and ideas that rebel against the status quo in order render violence intolerable.
You can read the preface and an excerpt from the first chapter here, and you can get a taste of their argument from their op-ed for Truthout in June 2014 here, where they explain why they decided
‘…to develop a paradigm that focused on the intensification of what we called the politics of disposability. This requires taking our analysis beyond 20th century frames of analysis to look at the ways in which more and more individuals and groups are now considered excess by the onslaught of global forces that no longer offer the possibility of alternative futures. It talks precisely to those contemporary forms of disposability that have become so normalized; the burden of the guilt is placed on the shoulders of the victims, while the most pernicious of systemic abuses continues to hide things in plain sight. And it develops a critical angle of vision that goes well beyond the mere authentication of lives as simply born vulnerable to question the systemic design for oppression and exploitation that produces humans as some expendable category…
‘There is something, however, more at stake here than the contemporary plight of those millions forced to live in intolerable conditions. What makes the contemporary forms of disposability so abhorrent is precisely the way it shapes disposable futures. The future now appears to us as a terrain of endemic catastrophe and disorder from which there is no viable escape except to draw upon the logics of those predatory formations that put us there in the first place. Devoid of any alternative image of the world, we are merely requested to see the world as predestined and catastrophically fated. Frederic Jameson‘s claim then that it is easier to “imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism” is more than a reflection on the poverty of contemporary imaginations. It is revealing of the nihilism of our times that forces us to accept that the only world conceivable is the one we are currently forced to endure: a world that is brutally reproduced and forces us all to become witness to its spectacles of violence that demand we accept that all things are ultimately insecure by design. In this suffocating climate, the best we can hope for is to be connected to some fragile and precarious life support system that may be withdrawn from us at any moment. Hope has dissolved into the pathology of social and civil death and the quest for mere survival. For if there is a clear lesson to living in these times, it is precisely that the lights can go out at any given moment, without any lasting concern for social responsibility. This is simply the natural order of things (so we are told) and we need to adapt our thinking accordingly.’
And, as always, you can find much more on these themes over at Brad’s History of Violence project (and particularly the Disposable Life series of lectures here).
A clutch of forthcoming books on war that seek, in different ways, to illuminate dimensions of what I’ve been calling ‘later modern war’:
Antonia Chayes‘ Borderless Wars (due in August at an eye-popping price from Cambridge University Press):
In 2011, Nasser Al-Awlaki, a terrorist on the US ‘kill list’ in Yemen, was targeted by the CIA. A week later, a military strike killed his son. The following year, the US Ambassador to Pakistan resigned, undermined by CIA-conducted drone strikes of which he had no knowledge or control. The demands of the new, borderless ‘gray area’ conflict have cast civilians and military into unaccustomed roles with inadequate legal underpinning. As the Department of Homeland Security defends against cyber threats and civilian contractors work in paramilitary roles abroad, the legal boundaries of war demand to be outlined. In this book, former Under Secretary of the Air Force Antonia Chayes examines these new ‘gray areas’ in counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism and cyber warfare. Her innovative solutions for role definition and transparency will establish new guidelines in a rapidly evolving military-legal environment.
Christopher Coker‘s Future War (due in September from Polity):
Will tomorrow’s wars be dominated by autonomous drones, land robots and warriors wired into a cybernetic network which can read their thoughts? Will war be fought with greater or lesser humanity? Will it be played out in cyberspace and further afield in Low Earth Orbit? Or will it be fought more intensely still in the sprawling cities of the developing world, the grim black holes of social exclusion on our increasingly unequal planet? Will the Great Powers reinvent conflict between themselves or is war destined to become much ‘smaller’ both in terms of its actors and the beliefs for which they will be willing to kill?
In this illuminating new book Christopher Coker takes us on an incredible journey into the future of warfare. Focusing on contemporary trends that are changing the nature and dynamics of armed conflict, he shows how conflict will continue to evolve in ways that are unlikely to render our century any less bloody than the last. With insights from philosophy, cutting-edge scientific research and popular culture, Future War is a compelling and thought-provoking meditation on the shape of war to come.
Color coded terror alerts, invasion, drone war, rampant surveillance: all manifestations of the type of new power Brian Massumi theorizes in Ontopower. Through an in-depth examination of the War on Terror and the culture of crisis, Massumi identifies the emergence of preemption, which he characterizes as the operative logic of our time. Security threats, regardless of the existence of credible intelligence, are now felt into reality. Whereas nations once waited for a clear and present danger to emerge before using force, a threat’s felt reality now demands launching a preemptive strike. Power refocuses on what may emerge, as that potential presents itself to feeling. This affective logic of potential washes back from the war front to become the dominant mode of power on the home front as well. This is ontopower—the mode of power embodying the logic of preemption across the full spectrum of force, from the “hard” (military intervention) to the “soft” (surveillance). With Ontopower, Massumi provides an original theory of power that explains not only current practices of war but the culture of insecurity permeating our contemporary neoliberal condition.
The Institute for Economics and Peacehas issued its Global Peace Index for 2014. There are all sorts of problems in calculating indices like these – and interpreting them (as you can see if you read some of the press releases and reports surrounding the publication of the GPI) – and in this case:
The Global Peace Index is a composite index comprised of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators that gauge the level of peace in 162 countries. These indicators can be grouped into three broad themes: the level of safety and security in a society, the number of international and domestic conflicts and the degree of militarisation.
Crunching the numbers, the Institute concludes that
Syria remains the world’s least peaceful country, followed by Iraq and Afghanistan. The country that suffered the most severe deterioration in peace was Libya, which now ranks 149th of 162 countries. Ukraine suffered the second largest deterioration…
Its President, Steve Killelea, explained that:
2014 was marked by contradictory trends: on the one hand many countries in the OECD achieved historically high levels of peace, while on the other, strife-torn nations, especially in the Middle East, became more violent.
What the Report doesn’t pursue are the close links between those two trends; and when you look at the map you will soon realise that being ‘peaceful’ is not the same thing as not being belligerent… But the Report does emphasise the absurdist cost of all this violence (while noting that much more is at stake than money): ‘The economic impact of violence reached a total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year.’ You can download the full Report here or find the interactive map (screenshot at the head of this post) here. On the same day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published different maps in World at War that provide a radically different calculus of the cost of such violence. Writing in the New York TimesSomini Senguptareports:
Nearly 60 million people have been driven from their homes by war and persecution, an unprecedented global exodus that has burdened fragile countries with waves of newcomers and littered deserts and seas with the bodies of those who died trying to reach safety. The new figures, released Thursday by the United Nations refugee agency, paint a staggering picture of a world where new conflicts are erupting and old ones are refusing to subside, driving up the total number of displaced people to a record 59.5 million by the end of 2014, the most recent year tallied. Half of the displaced are children. Nearly 14 million people were newly displaced in 2014, according to the annual report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In other words, tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes every day and “seek protection elsewhere” last year, the report found. That included 11 million people who scattered within the borders of their own countries, the highest figure ever recorded in the agency’s 50-year history. Tens of millions of others fled in previous years and remain stuck, sometimes for decades, unable to go home or find a permanent new one, according to the refugee agency. They include the more than 2.5 million displaced in the Darfur region of Sudan, and the 1.5 million Afghans still living in Pakistan.
And the map reveals a starkly different bi-polar geography to the division highlighted by the GPI:
When refugees flee their own countries, most of them wind up in the world’s less-developed nations, with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan hosting the largest numbers. One in four refugees now finds shelter in the world’s poorest countries, with Ethiopia and Kenya taking many more refugees than, say, Britain and France. As the report states, “the global distribution of refugees remains heavily skewed away from wealthier nations and towards the less wealthy.”
Israel’s occupation has been transformed in the social media age. Over the last decade, military rule in the Palestinian territories grew more bloody and entrenched. In the same period, Israelis became some of the world’s most active social media users. In Israel today, violent politics are interwoven with global networking practices, protocols, and aesthetics. Israeli soldiers carry smartphones into the field of military operations, sharing mobile uploads in real-time. Official Israeli military spokesmen announce wars on Twitter. And civilians encounter state violence first on their newsfeeds and mobile screens.
Across the globe, the ordinary tools of social networking have become indispensable instruments of warfare and violent conflict. This book traces the rise of Israeli digital militarism in this global context—both the reach of social media into Israeli military theaters and the occupation’s impact on everyday Israeli social media culture. Today, social media functions as a crucial theater in which the Israeli military occupation is supported and sustained.
Here is Laleh Khalili on the book:
“Amidst the hype of Facebook revolutions and the ostensible democratizing power of social media, Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca Stein illuminate the counterpoint: online militarization and the extension of state politics into the virtual realm. They expose the machinery of the Israeli state power at work within social media, and show the possibilities for countering the force of this machinery. Powerfully argued, beautifully researched, and thought-provoking, Digital Militarism is vitally important.”
We live within political systems that increasingly seek to control movement, organized around both the desire and ability to determine who is permitted to enter what sorts of spaces, from gated communities to nation-states. In Movement and the Ordering of Freedom, Hagar Kotef examines the roles of mobility and immobility in the history of political thought and the structuring of political spaces. Ranging from the writings of Locke, Hobbes, and Mill to the sophisticated technologies of control that circumscribe the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, this book shows how concepts of freedom, security, and violence take form and find justification via “regimes of movement.” Kotef traces contemporary structures of global (im)mobility and resistance to the schism in liberal political theory, which embodied the idea of “liberty” in movement while simultaneously regulating mobility according to a racial, classed, and gendered matrix of exclusions.
And here is Eyal Weizman on this one:
“In this book Hagar Kotef manages to successfully weave several intellectual projects: a wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated contribution to political theory, a robust and fine-grained analysis of the mechanisms of Israeli control of Palestinian movement, and a direct confrontation with its injustice. This book is a major contribution to the topological shift in the study of space. Kotef does nothing less than rewrite the history of territory as a matter of movement, and that of sovereignty as the control of matter in movement. By pushing her original insight as far as it would go, she best captures the logic of the world we struggle to live within.”
According to security elites, revolutions in information, transport, and weapons technologies have shrunk the world, leaving the United States and its allies more vulnerable than ever to violent threats like terrorism or cyberwar. As a result, they practice responses driven by fear: theories of falling dominoes, hysteria in place of sober debate, and an embrace of preemptive war to tame a chaotic world.
Patrick Porter challenges these ideas. In The Global Village Myth, he disputes globalism’s claims and the outcomes that so often waste blood and treasure in the pursuit of an unattainable “total” security. Porter reexamines the notion of the endangered global village by examining Al-Qaeda’s global guerilla movement, military tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and drones and cyberwar, two technologies often used by globalists to support their views. His critique exposes the folly of disastrous wars and the loss of civil liberties resulting from the globalist enterprise. Showing that technology expands rather than shrinks strategic space, Porter offers an alternative outlook to lead policymakers toward more sensible responses—and a wiser, more sustainable grand strategy.
You can get a preliminary preview of Patrick’s basic argument at War on the Rockshere.
I’ve been catching up on a stream of publications by Pete Adeyand Ben Anderson on emergencies, including ‘Affect and security: exercising emergency in UK “civil contingencies”‘, Society & Space 29(6) (2011) 1092-1109; ‘Anticipating emergencies: Technologies of preparedness and the matter of security’, Security dialogue 43 (2) (2012) 99-117; and ‘Governing events and life: “Emergency” in UK Civil Contingencies’, Political Geography 31 (1) (2012) 24-33.
This has been prompted by a continuing conversation with Theo Price about a series of political/artistic interventions under the rubric of COBRA RES, in which he’s invited me to take part. COBRA, as many readers will know, is
the British Government’s emergency response committee set up to respond to a national or regional crisis. Standing for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A [below], the COBRA Committee comes together in moments of perceived crisis under the chairmanship of either the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. At COBRA meetings, decisions and a possible response, sometimes simply a press conference, are made under real or imagined conditions of emergency and/or crisis.
The committee can evoke emergency powers such as suspending Parliament or restricting movement. Such emergency-based responses have ranged from tackling Ash Dieback disease to the deployment of military hardware on civilian rooftops during the London Olympics. Emergency and crisis-based politics are becoming increasingly common as modes of contemporary governance in an age of hyped terrorism and economic and environmental crises.
COBRA RES is a critical response, holding up a mirror to COBRA ‘as a way of producing different information, new perspectives and alternative narratives, while existing in a mimetic relationship to the emergency Committee itself and the situation it is responding to.’
COBRA RES aims to re-frame the response from an aesthetic perspective, while operating as an active-archive that follows, traces and maps the constantly changing tide of emergency politics. COBRA RES is a collective of artists and writers who aim to ask critical questions of COBRA through a series of creative responses. Reflecting and mimicking the structure of the COBRA Committee, the artists, writers and filmmakers are chosen for their relevance to the given context of the COBRA meeting.
The artists and writers are given nine days from the initial COBRA meeting in which to respond to either COBRA or the context it is meeting under. For the process to work, it is important that pressure is applied to the artists and writers so as prevent too much consideration, with limited facts available, in an attempt to re-create a parallel action of response.
You can read more from Theo about the project in ‘Art in an Emergency’ here:
Art allows a certain freedom to explore and reimagine politics, offering a reflective surface on which to review the distorted image projected by the state in moments of crisis. But in recent years, it is politics that has increased its use of aesthetics to help manipulate and develop – often in a favourable light – its own agenda.
This image-based politics is a politics of presentation, of appearance and constructed images that tell a certain story, often a moral story of good v evil, of citizen v terrorist. Such morals are created through aesthetic and performative means to convince the general public that not only is the government protecting them, but that new terror legislation is necessary and justified. This approach is not new, but when political spin is used in ’emergency’ events, from which new terror legislation may then emerge, surely it is better to deal in fact than gesture.
Not all political situations invite an artistic response, but the government’s Cobra committee, and the ’emergencies’ prompting its meetings, offer a wide array of unknown variables that leave an open space for interpretation and imagination. Often Cobra closes this gap with its publicly announced meeting – we aim to re-open it.
As politics and society become increasingly brand-aware, with digital images and presentation the preferred power-tools to promote a political position, art becomes the obvious medium through which to ask questions. Art can only respond to the world around it and if politics and politicians increasingly attempt to define, promote and manipulate their position by aesthetic and performative means, art must reflect, mimic and respond in kind.
COBRA and thus COBRA RES have met five times since January 2013:
COBRA 1.0 Our first response was an exhibition after COBRA had met when hostages had been held in the Tiguentourine gas plant in Algeria.
COBRA 1.1 The second response was a book of artistic and written responses to the COBRA meeting following the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London.
Artists: Steve Bell, Hugh Jordan, Kennardphillipps, Nima Esmailpour, Nicolas Hausdorf, & Alex Goller ( H+Corp), Frida Go, Chie Konishi, Samuel Stevens, Theodore Price, Adam Ferguson, Jenny Richards, Richard Wilson, Robert Malt Writers: Iain Boal (foreword), Nicolas Hausdorf, Theodore Price, Philip Howe, Samuel Stevens
COBRA 1.2 Responding to the situation in Nairobi shopping centre, secret postal responses were submitted to COBRA RES by a selection of artists. This work will not be viewed or opened until the final COBRA RES exhibition in 2018.
COBRA 1.3 DVD of artist films with accompanying book of texts, which responded to the extensive flooding to hit large parts of the United Kingdom.
Artists: Adam Chodzko, Stephen Connolly, Alison Ballard, Margaret Dickinson, John Jordan, Theodore Price, Stina Wirfelt, Samuel Stevens, Rose Butler, Nabli Ahmed, Daniel Shanken, Oliver Bancroft, James Connelly, Stevie Deas, Wonderland Collective Writers: Nina Power ( Lead Essay) Christopher Collier, Jenny Richards, Nicolas Hausdorf, John Jordan, Isabelle Fremeaux, Theodore Price, Samuel Stevens, Stephen Connolly.
The most recent (fifth) COBRA RES production (see above) is in response to three COBRA meetings in July and August 2014:
18th July 2014 in response to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine (Chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron)
30th July 2014 in response to the continued outbreak of Ebola in West Africa (Chaired by newly appointed Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond)
8th August 2014 in response to Islamic State forcing thousands to flee their homes and take refuge on Mount Sinjar, Iraq (Chaired by newly appointed Defence Secretary Michel Fallon)
Examining the inter-play of emergency politics, COBRA RES has issued a set of emergency card games and an accompanying book of theoretical texts. The games invite the reader to become player by moving towards an active ‘participation’ within the grand narrative of each separate emergency episode.
Cards by: COBRA RES and H+Corp Texts by: Richard Barbrook, Roland Bleiker, David Campbell, Derek Gregory, Nicolas Hausdorf, Emma Hutchinson, Theodore Price and Strategic Optimism Football Club.
The book accompanying the latest COBRA RES includes my ‘Drone geographies’ (see DOWNLOADS tab) and my post on ‘The war on Ebola‘ (artfully and graciously re-crafted by Theo),
We’ve been here before – ‘wars’ on this and ‘wars’ on that. It’s strange how reluctant states are to admit that their use of military violence (especially when it doesn’t involve ‘boots on the ground‘) isn’t really war at all – ‘overseas contingency operations’ is what the Pentagon once preferred, but I’ve lost count of how many linguistic somersaults they’ve performed since then to camouflage their campaigns – and yet how eager they are to declare everything else a war.
Yet all metaphors take us somewhere before they break down, and the ‘war on Ebola’ takes us more or less directly to the militarisation of the global response. In an otherwise critical commentary, Karen Greenberg draws parallels between the ‘the war on terror’ and the ‘war on Ebola’:
‘The differences between the two “wars” may seem too obvious to belabor, since Ebola is a disease with a medical etiology and scientific remedies, while ISIS is a sentient enemy. Nevertheless, Ebola does seem to mimic some of the characteristics experts long ago assigned to al-Qaeda and its various wannabe and successor outfits. It lurks in the shadows until it strikes. It threatens the safety of civilians across the United States. Its root causes lie in the poverty and squalor of distant countries. Its spread must be stopped at its region of origin — in this case, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa — just as both the Bush and Obama administrations were convinced that the fight against al-Qaeda had to be taken militarily to the backlands of the planet from Pakistan’s tribal borderlands to Yemen’s rural areas.’
There are other parallels too, not least the endless re-descriptions of terrorism and even insurgency as life-threatening diseases, ‘cancers’ on the body politic. And, as Josh Holmesshows, there is also an entirely parallel (geo)politics of fear in both cases (see also Rebecca Gordon on the racialization of ‘the fear machine’ here). Given the threat supposedly posed by ‘the enemy within’, it’s not surprising that US Northern Command has already set up a 30-person ‘military rapid response team‘ for domestic Ebola cases, and that the Department of Homeland Security has been issuing Biosurveillance Event Reports on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from the National Biosurveillance Integration Center.
But as I’ve said, Karen’s is a critical commentary and so, before the military metaphors carry us away, her conclusion bears repeating:
The United States is about to be tested by a disease in ways that could dovetail remarkably well with the war on terror. In this context, think of Ebola as the universe’s unfair challenge to everything that war bred in our governmental system. As it happens, those things that the U.S. did, often ineffectively and counterproductively, to thwart its enemies, potential enemies, and even its own citizenry will not be an antidote to this “enemy” either. It, too, may be transnational, originate in fragile states, and affect those who come in contact with it, but it cannot be stopped by the methods of the national security state.
To make sense of all this, I think we need to stand back and start with four general observations:
(1) Modern military medicine has long involved more than evacuating and treating the wounded from the field of battle. It has always had a substantial public health component. Until the early twentieth century, ‘infectious diseases unrelated to trauma were responsible for a much greater proportion of the deaths during war than battle-related injuries‘. As militaries started to pay much closer attention to hygiene and disease prevention, Matthew Smallman-Raynorand Andrew Cliff estimate that the ratio of ‘battle deaths’ to deaths from disease amongst the military population fell from 1:0.4 in the First World War to 1:0.1 in the Second World War; then it rose to 1:0.13 in the Vietnam War but in the first US-led Gulf War (1991) it fell to 1:0.01.
(2) Modern militaries are no strangers to biowarfare either. Both sides in the First World War experimented with chemical weapons, and although the US Army’s explicitly offensive Biological Warfare Weapons Laboratories closed in 1969 the commitment to ‘bio-defense’ and bio-security has ensured a continuing military investment in the weaponisation of infectious diseases (see right). I don’t subscribe to the view that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the result of a rogue US biowarfare program – see for example the claims made by ‘Robert Wenzel’here: and if you want to know why his name is in scare-quotes, appropriately enough, read Chris Becker‘s takedown here – nor to the fear that what Scientific Americancalls ‘weaponised Ebola’ is poised to become a ‘bio-terror threat’. But I do think it worth noting the work of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases which has had field teams on the ground in West Africa since 2006, and the importance placed on surveillance and monitoring.
(3) I also think it’s necessary to think through the biopolitics of public health in relation to military and paramilitary violence. This takes multiple forms. It’s become dismally apparent that in many conflict zones hospitals, doctors and other health-care workers have become targets: in Gaza, to be sure, but in Syria and elsewhere too. The treatment of disease has also become a tactical vector: think of the CIA’s use of polio vaccination campaigns as a cover for its intelligence operations and – the conjunction is imperative – the Taliban’s manipulation of polio vaccinations in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Think, too, of the way in which the Assad regime has inflicted a resurgent, even counterinsurgent geography of polio on the Syrian people. As Annie Sparrowshows (see also here):
‘This man-made outbreak is a consequence of the way that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has chosen to fight the war—a war crime of truly epidemic proportions. Even before the uprising, in areas considered politically unsympathetic like Deir Ezzor, the government stopped maintaining sanitation and safe-water services, and began withholding routine immunizations for preventable childhood diseases. Once the war began, the government started ruthless attacks on civilians in opposition-held areas, forcing millions to seek refuge in filthy, crowded, and cold conditions. Compounding the problem are Assad’s ongoing attacks on doctors and the health care system, his besieging of cities, his obstruction of humanitarian aid, and his channeling of vaccines and other relief to pro-regime territory.
‘… nearly all the cases of polio have occurred in areas of northern Syria under rebel control, where the government is seemingly doing everything in its power to prevent vaccination. The Syrian government has appealed to the UN for hundreds of medicines for areas of the country it controls, while largely ignoring the far more dire needs of opposition-held areas. Many children, especially newborns, still do not have access to polio immunization. Daily government airstrikes target the very health facilities that should be the foundation of vaccination efforts, as well as the children who should be protected from polio, measles, and other preventable childhood diseases. As Dr. Ammar, a doctor from Aleppo, said to me bitterly after an April 30 airstrike killed twenty-two schoolgirls, “The government’s polio control strategy for children is to kill them before they can get polio.”’
In her original essay, Sara shows how powerful states in the global North joined forces with the World Health Organisation to construct infectious disease as an existential security threat that demanded new rules and protocols for its effective containment. Crucially:
‘The outcome of this has been the development of international health cooperation mechanisms that place western fears of an outbreak reaching them above the prevention of such outbreaks in the first place. In turn, the desire of the WHO to assert its authority in the project of disease surveillance and containment has led it to develop global health mechanisms that primarily prioritizes the protection of western states from disease contagion.’
This has a genealogy as well as a geography (or what Alan Ingram once called a ‘geopolitics of disease’). Peter Dörrienotes that on 18 September 2014 the U.N. Security Council declared the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa ‘a threat to international peace and security’, and that this was ‘the first time the U.N. had taken this step in a public health crisis‘ (in fact the Council had previously expressed similar concerns about the impact of HIV/AIDS on ‘stability and security’). Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter this declaration has significant legal implications, as Jens David Ohlin notes here, but what most concerns Peter is how long it took for the Security Council to stir itself. It issued its statement 180 days after the WHO confirmed the outbreak, and over a month after the WHO had declared Ebola a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’, and in his eyes the international system ‘ignored the problem until it was too big for any solution other than full-scale military intervention.’ But I’ve already suggested, it’s wrong to treat the militarisation of epidemic disease as somehow new. Of direct relevance to the present ‘war on Ebola’ is this passage from Sara’s essay:
The United States has been a keen participant in disease surveillance and response since the mid-1990s. The United States Department of Defense (US DoD) has had overseas infectious disease research laboratories located in over 20 countries for nearly ten years. The Global Emerging Infectious Surveillance and Response System (DoD-GEIS) mobile laboratories were set up for the purpose of ‘responding to outbreaks of epidemic, endemic and emergent diseases’, and their location in the DoD, as opposed to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or Centre for Disease Control (CDC) demonstrates how seriously the United States views the response to infectious disease as a key national security strategy.
So, four observations about the military-medical-security nexus that provide a context for the ‘war on Ebola’. There are two other issues that should also be on the table before proceeding.
The first involves the imaginative geographies circulating in the global North that (mis)inform public response to the epidemic. Many of them can be traced back to colonial descriptions of the coast of nineteenth-century West Africa (and Sierra Leone in particular) as ‘the white man’s grave’, a form of what in a different context Dan Clayton calls a ‘militant tropically’. The contemporary reactivation of these tropes is clearly a serious concern because it corrodes an effective political response. As geographer Kerrie Thornhill writes,
African and diaspora scholars, already accustomed to the ‘thousand tiny paper cuts’ of casual racism, demonstrate how these (metaphorical) cuts escalate into real fatalities. Writers such as Nanjala Nyabola and Lola Okolosie point out the abundance of racist tropes depicting West African societies as inherently unclean, chaotic, uncooperative, ungrateful, and childlike. This racism reinforces a global culture of disregard for black African lives, and the perception that they are a source of social and biological contamination.
The second is the precarious condition of health care systems in West Africa (Ebola in Perspective is good on this too). Brice de la Vigne, the operations director of MSF, reminds us that ‘both Sierra Leone and Liberia were at war ten years ago and all the infrastructure was destroyed. It’s the worst place on earth to have these epidemics.’ Other critics suggest that these uncivil wars were not the only culprits. In their view, it was the neoliberal economic model forced on West Africa by the global North that was primarily responsible for gutting public health systems:
While years of war played a role in weakening public systems, it is the “war against people, driven by international financial institutions” that is largely responsible for decimating the public health care system, eroding wages and conditions for health care workers, and fueling the crisis sweeping West Africa today, says [Emira] Woods. “Over the past six months to a year there have been rolling health care worker strikes in country after country—Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia,” said Woods. “Nurses and doctors are risking and losing their lives but don’t have protective gear needed to serve patients and save their own lives. They are on the front lines and have not had their voices heard.”
So – back to the front lines. Despite the geopolitical-military-security back story, it was Médecins Sans Frontières that made the first public call (on 2 September) for military assistance in combatting Ebola.
‘States with biological-disaster response capacity, including civilian and military medical capability, must immediately dispatch assets and personnel to West Africa…
‘Many countries possess biological threat response mechanisms. They can deploy trained civilian or military medical teams in a matter of days, in an organised fashion, and with a chain of command to assure high standards of safety and efficiency to support the affected countries…
‘In the immediate term, field hospitals with isolation wards must be scaled up, trained personnel must be dispatched, mobile laboratories must be deployed to improve diagnostics, air bridges must be established to move personnel and material to and within West Africa, and a regional network of field hospitals must be established to treat medical personnel with suspected or actual infections.’
Ten days later Peter Piot, the Director of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and the microbiologist who helped identify the Ebola virus in 1976, also called for a ‘quasi-military intervention’. Although he spoke about a ‘state of emergency’, he too wanted to reverse the response prefigured by Giorgio Agamben in such situations and contract the spaces of exception that were multiplying across West Africa. He had in mind ‘beds, ambulances and trucks as well as an army of clinicians, doctors and nurses.’
What materialised was rather different.
On 16 September President Obama flew to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to announceOperation United Assistance. He committed 3-4,000 US troops and $750 million in defence funding to the mission, which is being orchestrated by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) through US Army Africa in concert with USAID. The focus of the US military-medical mission is Liberia. There are close historical connections between the US and Liberia, which originally offered to host AFRICOM’s headquarters in the capital Monrovia; now a Joint Force Command has been set up there. You can find the 75-page AFRICOM operational order here, dated 15 October 2014, from which I’ve taken the ‘common operating picture’ below. The title puzzles me – the only ‘Operation United Shield’ (singular) I’ve been able to find was a multinational operation to evacuate peacekeeping forces from Somalia in 1995. Appendix B is particularly worth reading, incidentally, because it identifies ‘the enemy’: ‘Ebola Virus Disease is the enemy, aided by poor preventive medicine practices in areas where EVD cases are prevalent and difficulties in identifying and treating EVD patients.’
The US deployment is complemented by the deployment of UK forces to Sierra Leone (Operation Gritrock)and French forces to Guinea. In both cases there are also close, colonial connections, and the British-led International Military Advisory Training Team Sierra Leone has been on the ground since 2000 (since last year this has been re-tasked as the International Security Advisory Team Sierra Leone).
(The map above is borrowed from the BBC; in addition, the Guardian has an interactive map tracing the historical geography of Ebola from the first known case in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 to the present epidemic in West Africa here).
These forces differ in more than geographical deployment; their capabilities differ significantly too. The UK is sending 750 troops, including contingents from the Royal Army Medical Corps (notably 22 Field Hospital), who will construct treatment centres (the aim is to add 700 beds to triple Sierra Leone’s existing capacity) and treat doctors and other health-care workers who contract the disease; they are supported by the Royal Navy’s ‘Primary Casualty Receiving Ship’ RFA Argus (which will provide a further 100 beds), and by another 780 volunteer health care staff.
The US has mobilised troops from the 101st Airborne, whose primary mission is to set up 17 Ebola Treatment Units (each with 100 beds); meanwhile the US Air Force’s 633rd Medical Group is establishing a 25-bed Expeditionary Medical Support System field hospital for doctors and other health care workers who contract the disease (below). The US Army has also fielded three mobile laboratories to test samples for the virus, reducing the time to diagnosis from days to hours. According to Pardis Sabeti, who leads viral-genome research at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard, ‘the faster you can get a diagnosis of Ebola, the faster you can stop it.’
‘Our enemy is a disease’, declared Lt Col Brian De Santis, echoing AFRICOM’s operational order – but it was quickly made clear that the vast majority of troops will not come into contact with the enemy or any of its victims at all. This is just as well; most of the soldiers have minimal medical training – just four hours from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease – and the Pentagon’s Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirbyexplained that there is ‘no intention right now that [troops] will interact with patients or be in areas where they would necessarily come into contact with patients’:
‘They’re not doctors. They’re not nurses. They’re not trained for that and not equipped for that. That’s not part of the mission. They will be kept in locations where they can do their jobs without coming into contact with patients.’
‘It’s like the city that spends all its money to raise up a formidable police force only to discover that what it really needs is a bigger sewage treatment plant. Of course, you can always put cops to work burning human excrement but there are better — that is, more effective and cheaper — ways to solve the problem.’
In effect, this is another case of the military preferring remote operations. Here is a telling passage from Sophie Arie’s interview with MSF’s president Joanne Liu:
‘“Countries are approaching this with the mindset of going to war,” she says. “Zero risk. Zero casualties.” Liu describes the current military efforts as the equivalent, in public health terms, of airstrikes without boots on the ground. Pledges of equipment and logistical support are helpful—“The military are the only body that can be deployed in the numbers needed now and that can organise things fast.” But there is still a massive shortage of qualified and trained medical staff on the ground. “You need to send people not stuff and get hands on, not try to do this remotely,” Liu says…’
The primary areas for military operations in the ‘war on Ebola’ to date are surveillance, logistics and containment. I’ll consider each in turn.
Last week Public Intelligencereleased a series of weekly Security Updates and daily Intelligence Summaries produced by AFRICOM to support Operation United Assistance. These rely largely on WHO reporting to track the spread of the disease.
This is to work at a highly aggregate level. Most public health experts suggest that the key to stopping the spread of the disease is contact tracing – which, in its essentials, is the same methodology used by the military and the intelligence services to track individuals through terrorist and insurgent networks – and has been used successfully in both the United States and in Nigeria (which was declared free of Ebola on 20 October). Ezra Kleindescribes it as ‘almost ludicrously simple’ and ‘as low-tech as medicine gets’, and so it is in principle.
But its application in much of West Africa is immensely difficult: the UN estimates that only 16 out of 44 zones have adequate procedures and personnel in place. And since many local people are understandably fearful of the consequences of their answers, it is unlikely that military involvement would improve the situation. Here is Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield:
‘People are often uncooperative with the tracers, sometimes even throwing stones at health care workers. They fear that they or their loved ones will be put in the hospital; they’ve seen firsthand that people who go there often don’t return.
“The community perceives this as a death sentence,” [Donald Thea, an infectious disease epidemiologist] said. “Relinquishing your loved one is tantamount to death.”
And health care workers have very little to offer people as an incentive to cooperate. “With smallpox, we could offer people a vaccine, a carrot in essence to induce them to be cooperative. With Ebola, we have nothing,” Thea said.’
Logistics is the area where the military comes into its own. MSF had emphasised that its priorities included ‘the mass expansion of isolation centers, air bridges to move personnel and equipment to and within the most affected countries, mobile laboratories for testing and diagnosis, and building a regional network of field hospitals to treat suspected or infected medical personnel.’ Much of the military effort is currently concentrated in these areas, but the other side to mobilising medical personnel, equipment and testing and treatment facilities is, in effect, immobilising the population.
Containment runs the gamut from quarantine through curfews and lockdowns to border closures. Most observers believe that border closures would be counter-productive: if you want to know why, see Debora MacKenzie‘s short essay here. The other, seemingly lesser measures also have their dangers. In its original call for assistance, MSF insisted that ‘any military assets and personnel deployed to the region should not be used for quarantine, containment, or crowd control measures’, and it emphasised that ‘forced quarantines have only bred fear and unrest, rather than stem the virus.’
But others have other ideas. Major Matt Cavanaugh, from the US Army War College, has made an unofficial, back-of-the-envelope calculation of what a successful ‘containment strategy’ for Ebola would require. He is adamant that only ‘boots on the ground’ could do the job, though the nature of that ‘job’ remains elusive in his account. He talks about military logistics – the ability to ‘fix “the last mile” problem’ – but he also notes the need ‘to fill the basic state functions related to health, security, and public order in order to adequately respond to the threat.’ In case that triptych isn’t clear enough, in his subsequent ‘Ebola Manifesto‘ the major declares that ‘There is exactly one organization designed to rapidly hold and control territory and the people on it: the military.’ The figure he eventually arrives at – somewhere between 36,600 to 73,200 troops – is derived from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and suggests that, for some commentators at least, the Ebola crisis is an opportunity to deepen AFRICOM’s investment in what Jan Bachmann calls ‘policing Africa’ [see his ‘Policing Africa: the US military and visions of crafting “good order”‘, Security Dialogue 45 (2) (2014) 119-36]:
‘The spectrum of [AFRICOM’s] activities can be understood most comprehensively through an analytical perspective of policing, in which the aim of establishing ‘good order’ through an expansive regulatory engagement in issues of welfare is applied to contexts of ‘fragile’ statehood and ‘ungoverned spaces’.’
This is not a uniquely American view. The Daily Mail (where else?) reports that one of the options being considered by Britain’s Chief of the General Staff is a full-scale military lockdown of Sierra Leone:
‘From a military perspective ebola is like a biological warfare attack and should be countered accordingly. There needs to be a clampdown on human movement inside Sierra Leone and possibly to and from the country between now and late 2015 when it is hoped that an antidote will have been developed.’
It’s hard to know how much credence this should be given, of course, though the very existence of proposals like these suggests that the ‘soft power’ which Joeva Rock sees in the militarisation of Ebola conceals an iron fist. And Niles Williamsonbelieves that the military-medical missions are a smokescreen:
‘The main purpose of this military operation is not to halt the spread of Ebola or restore health to those that have been infected. Rather the United States is seeking to exploit the crisis to establish a firm footing on the African continent for AFRICOM.’
That may be one of the objectives, but I think it’s a bridge too far to claim it as the main purpose: as I’ve tried to show, the militarisation and securitisation of Ebola has many other geopolitical and biopolitical dimensions. And Nick Turse has revealed that AFRICOM, far from having a ‘light footprint’, has already achieved a remarkably rapid tempo of operations across the whole continent.
Still, even in its less extreme versions, the ‘war on Ebola’ clearly raises urgent questions about the militarisation of humanitarian aid, about what Kristin Bergtora Sandvikcalls a ‘crisis of humanitarian governance’, and about the violence that is involved in the production of the humanitarian present.
How did the most powerful nation on earth come to embrace terror as the organizing principle of its security policy? In The Theater of Operations, Joseph Masco locates the origins of the present-day U.S. counterterrorism apparatus in the Cold War’s “balance of terror.” He shows how, after the attacks of 9/11, the U.S. Global War on Terror mobilized a wide range of affective, conceptual, and institutional resources established during the Cold War to enable a new planetary theater of operations. Tracing how specific aspects of emotional management, existential danger, state secrecy, and threat awareness have evolved as core aspects of the American social contract, he draws on archival, media, and ethnographic resources to offer a new portrait of American national security culture. Undemocratic and unrelenting, this counterterror state prioritizes speculative practices over facts, and ignores everyday forms of violence across climate, capital, and health in an unprecedented effort to anticipate and eliminate terror threats – real, imagined, and emergent.
I’ve commented on the idea of a ‘theatre of war’ on several occasions (see here and here) and in his new book Masco seems to be excavating its performative/manipulative dimensions to explore the constitution of ‘a new, planetary theatre of operations’ – something else to take into account as I race towards completing The everywhere war. I’m also greatly taken by a genealogy that begins not with 9/11, which is emphatically not the moment when ‘everything changed’, but with the Cold War…
The Theater of Operations has won advance praise from another of my favourite authors, Peter Galison:
“We know that in the Cold War transportation infrastructures boomed, electronic infrastructures had to be hardened. We know about weapons and counter-weapons; we even have learned about the astonishing proliferation of security mechanisms put in place during the War on Terror. What Joseph Masco shows us in The Theater of Operations is an entire affective structure—the management of anxiety, resilience, steadfastness, sacrifice—that is demanded of every citizen. Alert to liquid containers above 2.4 ounces, hypervigilant to abandoned bags, suspicious loitering, or the detonation of a thermonuclear weapon—we learn to live our lives aware of tiny and apocalyptic things. With an anthropologist’s eye long attuned to life in the para-wartime state, Masco is the perfect guide to the theater of our lives in the security state.”
Evidently not a person to stand still for long, Masco is already at work on a book on environmental crisis: you can dip a toe into the water at the excellent somatosphere (on science, medicine and anthropology) here, or dig out his chapter on ‘Bad weather: the time of planetary crisis’ in Martin Holbraad and Morten Axel Pedersen (eds), Times of security: ethnographies of fear, protest and the future, which came out from Routledge last summer. The abstract (below), together with a link to an earlier essay on ‘Building the Bunker Society’ (available as a pdf), is here:
How, and when, does it become possible to conceptualize a truly planetary crisis? The Cold War nuclear arms race installed one powerful concept of planetary crisis in American culture. The science enabling the US nuclear arsenal, however, also produced unintended byproducts: notably, a radical new investment in the earth sciences. Cold War nuclear science ultimately produced not only bombs, but also a new understanding of the earth as biosphere. Thus, the image of planetary crisis in the US was increasingly doubled during the Cold War – the immediacy of nuclear threat matched by concerns about rapid environmental change and the cumulative effects of industrial civilization on a fragile biosphere. This paper examines the evolution of (and competition between) two ideas of planetary crisis since 1945: nuclear war and climate change. In doing so, the paper offers an alternative history of the nuclear age and considers the US national security implications of a shift in the definition of planetary crisis from warring states to a warming biosphere.
And while we are on the subject of ‘bad weather’, climate change and national security, the GAO recently released a report on the implications of global climate change for US military infrastructure. You can read a summary review here, which points out that while the Pentagon evidently takes climate change very seriously indeed – there has been a string of seminars, workshops and conferences testifying to that – the die-hards in the Republican Party continue to do everything they can to block even military-sponsored research into climate change. As Representative David McKinley put it:
Our climate is obviously changing; it has always been changing. With all the unrest around the global [sic], why should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology? This amendment will ensure we maximize our military might without diverting funds for a politically motivated agenda.
The engorgement of ‘military might’ severed from a ‘politically motivated agenda’: you can’t make this stuff up. Even for the theatre.
Two short essays that address the public circulation of supposedly secret information. The first, “Collateral Murder and the After-Life of Activist Imagery”, is by Christian Christensen, and concerns the video clip released by Wikileaks as Collateral Murder in April 2010. I’ve discussed this edited video of a US Apache helicopter attack in New Baghdad in 2007 before, together with the two documentary films that it provoked, and it forms part of my ‘Militarized Vision’ project (you can find links to the clip and to subsequent commentary in that original post).
Christian doesn’t explore the content of the video so much as its inscription and re-inscription within public debates, part of the mediatization of later modern war. He does make a sharp point about the status of the imagery:
One could argue that the repeated use of this imagery (and corresponding audio) has created an entirely new genre of military reporting. It is a genre with specific, often disturbing conventions: the grainy images of those on the ground, the flat, bland coloring, the “narration” of the aircraft operators which swings between the clinical and the cynical, the silence of those under surveillance or attack, the sound of the weaponry as it is discharged, and, importantly, the “overtness” of the technology, by which I mean the way in which the screen is filled with evidence of the technology being used in the form of the cross-hairs in the middle and data visible at the top and the bottom of the screen…
The Collateral Murder video not only shatters the mythology of humane warfare and benevolent US power, but also causes us to question the notion of neutral technology at the service of human development: a theme which has regained a central space in public debate in recent years.
But he also thinks there is another, no less sharp point to be made about the very act of reporting:
Within this context, the killing of two Reuters employees by the US military was particularly poignant. At the most basic level, this was the symbolic killing of Journalism (with a capital “J”) by a military unaccustomed to critical coverage or investigation at home. The killings, of course, then went unreported until Manning leaked the material and WikiLeaks published it: itself an act of journalism. With Collateral Murder, there is a layering and re-layering of meaning, and, for me, journalism lies at the heart of the clip. These are humans first, of course, and most of those killed or wounded in the attack were not journalists. But, in addition to the tragedy of human death, there is also the tragedy of what is symbolically destroyed: Transparency. Democracy. Knowledge. Critical thinking. And it took an act of journalism to bring these tragedies to light, an act of which has now itself been subjected to the full force of the state via the imprisonment of Manning, and the threat of criminal charges being brought against Assange in the US.
Incidentally, the essay is the text of Christian’s presentation to the ‘Image Operations‘ conference held at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry (ICI) in Berlin earlier this month; the program is here.
The second essay is Adam Morris‘s wide-ranging review of ‘The geopolitics of the Snowden Files‘ at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Its immediate provocation is the publication of the Obama administration’s self-serving ‘NSA Report’:
The NSA Report — commissioned by the White House in August, published on its website in December, and now available in print via Princeton University Press— was authored by the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. As suggested by its official title, “Liberty and Security in a Changing World,” the Report was intended to advise President Obama on how to reform the data collection practices of the Intelligence Community (IC), in particular the NSA. Its authors include such veterans of the US security sector as Richard A. Clarke, Michael J. Morrell, and Peter Swire. This insiders’ perspective, in theory, is balanced by the addition to the group of constitutional lawyers Geoffrey R. Stone and Cass Sunstein. The unofficial purpose of the Report, however, was the Obama administration’s attempt to put a lid on the NSA scandal by pretending to be interested in reform. As Luke Harding points out in The Snowden Files, the Review Group was working out of the offices of the Director of National Intelligence, currently occupied by the felonious General James Clapper, w _ho knowingly lied in Congressional testimony about the bulk collection of Americans’ communication data.
The essay provides a fine, critical reading of the Report –
‘The anodyne language of these and other recommendations signals the imperial agenda out of which they are born: The NSA Report is obsessed with framing the debate over surveillance around the neopositivist vocabulary of “risk management,” but we know from history that political liberty will always suffer when a dominant regime deems a nation, its leadership or its population a “national security threat”…’
– but it also spirals off into a vigorous mapping of the context in which the NSA set about its covert operations and Edward Snowden‘s principled decision to go public (Adam also provides a commentary on Luke Harding‘s The Snowden Files: for another review, see Daniel Soar at the London Review of Bookshere). And here too, of course, investigative journalism is a vital, enabling and even empowering practice.