Is a Police State a Local Matter? an op ed rant

by rthieme on February 2, 2007

One of the questions raised by a blog like this is, how local is local? Is local restricted to stories about the Slowy Slowertons in Whitefish Bay moving through molasses to frame a plan at last for responding to the Bayshore Town Center?

When concentric circles of interest intersect – Fox Point, Wisconsin, the Midwest, the USA, the world, the solar system, and so on—then everything that affects one affects the others, too. All news is local in a universe in which everything is bound inextricably to everything else.

I spent last weekend in Washington DC at an Intelligence Ethics Conference sponsored by the International Intelligence Ethics Association. (No, “intelligence ethics” is not an oxymoron like “military intelligence” – haw haw.), The presentations were brimful of serious interest in the pressing issues that are showing up in the trenches of intelligence work post 9/11.

A young cadet at the conference said, “I dread the day when I have to make a decision where lives are at stake but I don’t have all the information I need.”

Intelligence professionals confront those decisions all the time. And they do it eye-deep in mud and murk, not in a warm well-lighted room where things seem clearer than they are.

I was an organizer of the conference and arranged for authors on ethics and intelligence to host lunch discussions.  One of the most impressive was Philip Seib who teaches journalism at Marquette. He spoke about secrecy and leaks with extraordinary thoughtfulness, insight, and balance. (He wrote, among others books, “Beyond the Front Lines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War” and “Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Helped Lead America into War.”) Marquette and Milwaukee are lucky to have him.

Now, we agreed not to quote anyone from the conference. Everything we said was “not for attribution.” But I can say that discussions raised chilling issues—torture, surveillance and secrecy, constitutional guarantees the administration is sidestepping.

And this, the most chilling statement of all:

“Everything has been put into place for a police state.”

I have to honor our commitments and not reveal who said what. But I will say that the person making that statement knows whereof he speaks. He knows what has happened since 9/11 and the “gloves came off.” He knows what we have done. He knows how, one by one, technologies of surveillance and intrusion that extend inside and outside our borders are being used.

And knowing all that, he made that statement, quietly, saying the words anxiously, with deep understanding of what they meant. This was no knee-jerk reaction from left or right; it was an observation based on historical actions and incontrovertible facts.

Yet when I mentioned this to a person on the next treadmill at the gym where I work out, they said, “Boy, aren’t you glad we live up here where nothing is likely to happen?”

So, fellow locals, what do you think? Is that response a “local view?”

How does one answer that question with a real awareness of what lies behind my colleague’s statement? Our culture is notoriously insular, wrapped in cocoons of no’s and not’s, encouraging denial as a defense against reality, encouraging the desire not to know because the helplessness of knowing makes us afraid, makes the dissonance of our lives too great.  So what does one say? Will Brett be back? Who’s at Summerfest next year?  Did you catch a big one?

Let me repeat: “Everything has been put into place for a police state.”

My colleague wasn’t kidding. That’s what I want to say above the noise of the treadmill and the cheering in the bar. While Foxified news channels chase after pedophiles, scaring viewers into watching entrapment, my colleague was raising an issue you’ll never hear on the “news in depth” – the far-reaching apparatus of secrecy and surveillance, procedures already in place, what modern technologies can do, how someone like J. Edgar Hoover, for example, who broke the law a thousand times, infiltrating groups, conducting illegal wiretaps and blackmailing politicians, sabotaging freedom of speech, assembly and the press, leading to killings, leading to the squashing of constitutional guarantees … what someone like Hoover would do with all this, with machinery that enables so much.

I don’t want to rant. I just want to say in a basic way that it is a local issue. The machinery of a police state, the practices that enable it, the readiness to exploit or create fear to justify illicit actions, the hidden potential of terror by state as well as non-state actors … all this is a local issue.

Even here. Even here, where in fact everything, not nothing, is likely to happen. And happen now.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: